Exhibitors were relieved that retailers have started to emerge from the funk that pervaded the October market following the events of Sept. 11.
Buyers responded to color, touches of femininity, such as ruffles and lace, and to new summer prints. They sampled preppy, Bohemian and romantic trends, interpreting looks for specific customer groups. Rather than buying deep in collections, retailers concentrated on items, such as cropped pants, paired with cute tops and T-shirts.
Many buyers with cleaned-out inventories said summer goods were in short supply, speculating that manufacturers had cut back or skipped over summer, going straight into fall.
The Southern Fashion Group, a multi-line better sportswear showroom, increased sales 14 percent over last year, helped by a new joint partnership that added several new lines. Sylvia Overcast, principal, said around 80 percent of buyers left paper, at least 20 percent more than usual.
“Retailers said business was still slow, but they were looking forward to a good year,” said Overcast. “The attitude was much less hesitant than in October.”
Steve Leib, principal of Leib Associates, a contemporary sportswear sales firm, reported showroom sales up 22 percent over last year.
“Retailers, who were scared or cautious in October knew they had to buy now or they may not be able to get product,” Leib said.
Doug Harris, owner of three stores — two called Certain Things, one called CT Weekends, all in the Raleigh, N.C., area — increased sales over last year. The Raleigh area has been economically sound and resilient, he said. “We had our best December ever,” he said.
With a slightly increased budget, Harris bought heavily in core resources Michael Stars, & Trousers, Garfield & Marks, and Renfrew, Willow and Brighton, his biggest accessories resource. He also cherry-picked smaller lines for printed cropped pants or short skirts, paired with solid tops.
Marigail Mathis, owner of a Florence, Ala., women’s better-bridge store of the same name, said to boost business, she increased advertising to attract new customers, rejuvenated her in-store ambience and played up customer service.
Holiday business was strong, said Mathis, but January was “quiet,” partially due to warm, wet weather. With a flat open-to-buy, Mathis bought groups from Olsen European Collection, Max Studio and bottoms from & Trousers. Taking a younger, edgier direction, she bought Seven jeans and loaded up on Michael Stars T-shirts, and hooded T-shirts by Three Dots. For customers who still clamor for dresses, she bought David Meister.
Carol Wood, owner of Polly Kay, a Morristown, Tenn., better specialty store, shopped with a budget up 15 percent, looking for spring-summer goods.
“Our inventories are cleaned out completely,” she said. “In recent weeks, we were so low on stock, we had trouble pulling an outfit together for a customer.”
Wood concentrated on novelty tops, from Emma Black, Velvet and Essendi. Carefully editing lines, Wood shopped for Asian-influences and burnout velvet shawls to pair with tank tops, and vintage-inspired looks at sharp prices.
Special, novel items were priorities for Lynn Nesbit, owner of the Country Vogue store in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Nesbit predicted a turnaround for spring, with tourism expected to pick up.
Avoiding lines that sell to department stores, discounters or outlets, Nesbit bought from a range of vendors to distinguish her store. She bought jackets, sweaters and colorful separates by Faith, Surya, Usindo and C.J. Lang. Cropped printed pants, popular last year, should continue this summer, she said.
Attendance at the women’s and children’s apparel show, which ran Jan. 24-28 at AmericasMart, was up 6 percent over last year.
“We were apprehensive about the show going into it,” said Peg Canter, general manager. “But we were very pleased with attendance and the upbeat mood of buyers.”