Dallas Market Center

Women who have gotten COVID-19 vaccinations are returning to specialty stores ready to spend on dressier clothing, said retailers shopping the transeasonal shows at the Dallas Market Center and nearby Fashion Industry Gallery.

“We’re starting to see customers coming in with friends,” said Cheryl Ross, vice president of product development for Soft Surroundings, which operates 80 stores, e-commerce and a catalogue. “Our fourth quarter is going to be really strong.”

The recent uptick in business spurred strong traffic at both venues as buyers sought to beef up spring inventories plus order fall goods. In addition, some retailers said they came to Dallas because the February Coterie market was held virtually.

The Dallas Market Center drew retailers from 48 states, Mexico and Canada in “the best attended market in more than 10 years,” said Cindy Morris, president and chief executive officer.

“March reinforced that the reps’ territories are expanding and we are a national market,” she noted. “We had a historic number of new buyers from across the country, and 27 percent were first-time attendees.”

Popular trends included fuller-leg pants and jeans, cashmere sweaters in vibrant hues and novelty patterns, tiered dresses, detailed loungewear in finer fabrics and statement jewelry.

Textiles with surface interest and shimmer exceled, including brocades, metallics, foils, satin, velvet, tweeds, faux fur and perforated leather. Prints ranged from bold abstracts to dainty calicos and a continuation of stripes and tie-dyes.

Some vendors supplied goods on consignment, occasionally in efforts to start relationships with new accounts.

Buyers tended to calculate their open-to-buys compared with the same period in 2019 since the pandemic year was such an aberration, and most were shaving them.

“Is everybody buying as heavily? No, but it’s definitely in the right direction,” said Brad Hughes, whose namesake firm represents about 45 upscale brands in two showrooms at the DMC. “We had a record day on the first day of market and saw over 100 accounts.”

“It’s been good,” echoed Gary Rosenblum, sales director of Jakett, which exhibits at FIG. “I haven’t had a show like this in a long time.”

Independent merchants reported surviving the pandemic year by cutting expenses and inventory, hand delivering or shipping merchandise on approval, launching or boosting e-commerce and getting creative at social media marketing, especially on Instagram, with virtual fashion shows featuring store employees.

Soft Surroundings plans to host trunk shows with local vendors and other in-store promotions to attract customers, said Ross.

“Everyone is working really hard,” she said. “If we can get over this hump, we’re seeing people are happy to be back.”

Shopping for accessories for resort and spring next year, Ross praised jewelry by Julio Designs as “gorgeous” and “well-priced” and Joya for “beautiful design for a cause and giving back.”

Patti Aversa, owner of Aversa For Her in Glendale, Wis., said vaccinated customers have been coming in joyfully, grateful to be alive and reconnecting.

“I’m thrilled to see it,” she said. “They’re all ready to get out of their sweatpants and put on something with a button and a zipper.”

Having cut her budget 10 percent from March 2019, Aversa sought fall clothing with color and personality for her 4,000-square-foot store, including Rossopuro’s tweed cashmere sweaters, Jakett’s textured leather jackets, Anorak’s “cute” down coats and “very wearable” dresses by Dress to Kill.

“I’m looking for more color and personality,” she said. “I love the fresh range of greens.”

B. Prince owners Andrea and Bezshan Dolatabadi of Birmingham, Ala., sought quick deliveries of mother-of-the-bride dresses and rounded out their fall buy, which they usually do in New York and Paris.

“Weddings that were canceled are being rescheduled,” Bezshan Dolatabadi noted.

Among their picks were Bigio’s three-quarter-length peach brocade dress and a sleeveless gown with a black-and-gold brocade bodice and black ostrich feathered and foiled skirt.

They cut their budget 30 percent from 2019, in line with last year’s sales decline.

Wolo Boutique partners Pamela Cotter and Anne Daniel said business had picked up in March at the Dallas shop in affluent University Park.

“We feel people want to dress up again,” Cotter said.

The pair booked primarily fall orders, including Emily Lovelock’s colored velvet tops, Cambio’s navy camouflage nylon pants, Lafayette 148’s cuffed denim jeans and Finley’s tailored shirts.

“I think people are ready for prints, and I usually don’t buy them,” said Nini Bekhradi, owner of Unica in Houston. “My client really wants happy colors now.”

She found “beautiful” dresses, skirts and tops by Go Silk and relaxed jeans from Paige Denim.

Spring business so far is on par with 2019 at Hill Country Outfitters, a casual women’s and men’s boutique in the tourist destination of Fredericksburg, Texas, said owner Mary Ann Turbeville. Fredericksburg is an easy drive from Texas’ three biggest cities and has continued to attract visitors to its wineries and rural lifestyle during the pandemic, she said.

“We had a wonderful spring break,” Turbeville noted. “We’re seeing an increase in traffic, and we’re about to head into wildflower season.”

Matching her budget to March 2019, she nabbed some immediate accessories and items and completed her fall buy, including “phenomenal” sportswear by Bella Dahl, Nic & Zoe and Liverpool.

“Our customer wants something comfortable and not outrageous, but fashionable,” added buyer Desiree Turbeville.

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