ATLANTA — The mild winter and bright fashion colors have lured spring shoppers out early this year in the Southeast, according to specialty store retailers at the Atlanta Apparel Market held Feb. 2 to 6 at the Atlanta Apparel Mart.

Most retailers said January sales launched 2012 to a strong start. Lindsay Wegener, managing owner of Poppy’s, Atlanta, called 2011 her “best year ever.” Her sales increased nearly 40 percent over 2010 and January was up around 45 percent.

“In general, people are ready for spring, but the weather is helping, too,” Wegener said.

Sharon Maloan, owner of Sugar & Spice in Martin, Tenn., said, “I feel like the economy is turning slowly, but it’s turning.”

Kathy Sheppard of the Sheppard & Tucker showroom, said, “[Retailers] seem to be planning their purchases more open, which means they’re optimistic about the future.”

As retailers refresh stores, the Mart is freshening the look of this market by offering a juried fashion show, and it has had several new showroom openings and expansions in all categories, according to Lou Ann  Thomas, director of marketing for apparel at AmericasMart.

Kaye Davis, executive director of fashion, added, “We’re seeing new blood coming in. Young people are making a difference in the market.”

Buyers were booking spring fill-ins through early fall. Topping their lists were tunics, interesting legwear, sun dresses and tribal prints for spring and summer, and oversize cardigans, jackets, capes and jeggings for early fall. Color was everywhere, dominated by coral, greens, purple, orange, yellow, mint, red and royal blue.

Accessories are key to retailers. They’re buying more jewelry, especially necklaces and layering pieces, as well as scarves and leather goods, and showrooms are offering more, including Michael & Paula Hyman Inc., which has added more leather goods. Michelle Harrison of Michelle Harrison & Associates Inc., said, “The diversity of accessories is so big now. It makes outfits look new.”

Victoria O’Leary and Janice Wood, co-owners of Posh in Charlottesville, Va., shopped for sun dresses, wide-legged pants, leggings, legwear and vintage jewelry, as well as a spring dress line for wedding guests. For fall, they bought Magaschoni cashmere, Lunn by Lilith apparel, and sweaters, hats, gloves and scarves. Posh is adding more jewelry because it drives traffic, O’Leary said.

Poppy’s Wegener shopped for fall, specifically longer bias-cut sweaters, oversize cardigans, jewelry, blazers with elbow patches, capes and jeggings in different textures, such as denim and leather. She also booked blouses and jewelry for immediate delivery.

Bradley Forster, owner of Bradley in Mobile, Ala., said her sales increased 9 percent in 2011, with “great maintained margins.” While January is up, too, Forster said she remains cautious. She shopped for immediate delivery through May, filling in on white and brightly colored jeans, print tunics, cotton print knit tops, Jude Connally print dresses, Suzi Roher narrow belts in orange and lime green, and shorts and handbags.

Forster said, “For the last three years, designers have been sitting with great ideas and waiting for a good economy. Freshness is here, and the majority is in color.”

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