JACKETS, FLEECE AND VESTS FUEL HOLIDAY SHOPPING
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Activewear has long been a popular holiday gift for men, but this year, more women are buying it for themselves.
Performance-oriented jackets, fleece items and vests have been fueling this month’s sales, according to a spot check of seven retailers. In many cases, women are willing to spend $200 for an item if the look is right.
A few stores noted that expanded holiday offerings and a greater variety of color have helped jazz up the category.
“Obviously, the economy is doing really well and the sport [of snowboarding] continues to grow in terms of participation. But the variety of offerings and the quality of offerings overall look better,” said Scott Kelleher, director of marketing for Blades, a 20-unit specialty store chain that caters to alternative-sports enthusiasts.
Burton snowboarding jackets are “on fire again as usual” at Blades, he said, adding that with retail prices of $245, styles with “clean” silhouettes in solid colors are in demand.
Women also like the looks of $200 jackets from Bonfire, another label that specializes in snowboarding apparel, Kelleher said.
In terms of athletic-inspired sportswear, $30 long-sleeved shirts and $59 hooded tops from Mooks, L Space $19 long-sleeved tops and $39 Hi-Time pants with a drawstring waistband are key holiday items. Online shoppers are also picking up these styles at Blades’ six-week-old e-commerce site, Kelleher said.
Until this week, shoppers were primarily buying apparel for themselves, but now they are more interested in finding gifts, he said. This year, Blades has been working to make its stores “a place to stop by” for a variety of services.
“When people come in to our stores, they are looking for a whole experience. They might stop by to drop off their board to be tuned up and they know they can talk to someone about the riding conditions at Hunter Mountain or any place in Vermont,” Kelleher said. “They might also pick up some new sunglasses and a shirt to wear that night to go to a club.”
Performance-oriented technical activewear is in demand at Neptune Mountaineering, a specialty store in Boulder, Colo. Juno, a Burlington, Vt.-based manufacturer that plans to change its name to Isis next year, is the hottest brand with women, said Jen Mastro, clothing buyer. Down jackets at $160 and stretch pants at $289 are generating holiday sales.
“The line sells well because it’s made solely for women. The pockets are low instead of being on the chest, the waist is tapered and pants are designed to fit in the hips,” she said. “Juno doesn’t make any men’s clothes, and it shows.”
Consumers’ interest in Ibex, another Vermont resource, is also helping holiday sales, Mastro said. The brand’s $200 wool blend stretch jacket and a $125 loden wool vest are popular.
“A lot of our customers are buying for themselves. They’re buying a lot of jackets, and they want to make sure they fit and function well,” Mastro said.
A blue and green $380 Patagonia jacket with stretch on the shoulders and the backs of the arms has been another hit this season, Mastro said.
“We get customers who are real users. They’re female ice climbers, back-country skiers and winter campers,” she said. “Clothing is a piece of gear to them. It’s just as important as skis or any other type of equipment. The worst thing is to be cold and wet in the outdoors — then you can’t enjoy what you’re doing.”
Copeland’s, a 50-unit operation in the Northwest, has been selling “anything by Adidas,” a spokeswoman said. Women are buying three-stripe pants, long-sleeved shirts, jackets and fleece pullovers for themselves and for gifts.
Sales are flat with last year — “still good” in this competitive market, the spokeswoman said.
Puma has also been coming on strong this month, with many shoppers looking for pants with coordinating tops, bra tops and tanks, she said. Those items generally retail from $24 to $60.
At G.I. Joe’s, an 18-unit chain in the Northwest, shoppers are looking for anything from The North Face, according to a spokeswoman, helping to push this month’s sales slightly ahead of last year.
Fleece “is on the top of everyone’s list,” with $165 jackets and $120 vests the most popular items, the spokeswoman said. Woolrich, which retails from $50 to $80, and Columbia Sportswear, which retails from $40 to $121, are also important resources for fleece, the G.I. Joe’s spokeswoman said.
“If it’s fleece, we’ll sell it,” she said. “Fleece is a good middle layer or you can use it as a jacket. It also looks good.”
With retail prices in the $200-to-$280 range, Columbia’s Titanium, windproof and waterproof ski wear, is also popular with G.I. Joe’s holiday shoppers.
Lady Foot Locker has also been selling a lot of fleece this season, a spokeswoman said. Many women are buying Lady Foot Locker Sport’s crewneck tops, zip-front jackets and pants, she said.
As part of a special offer, consumers can buy two items for $30 instead of $30 each.
Actra’s $55 reversible fleece jackets with charcoal on one side and black, navy, hot pink or sky blue on the reverse have been doing well, the spokeswoman said. Holiday shoppers have also been picking up Actra’s coordinating fleece slippers for $15 and gloves for $10.
Women’s pants are the strongest selling item at Galyan’s Trading Co., an 18-unit chain, said Chris Campbell, merchandise manager. With retail prices ranging from $40 to $60, Nike and Adidas are the key labels.
Holiday sales are more than 10 percent ahead of the same selling period last year, Campbell said.
“Women are just shifting to gift giving now. Most people have been buying things for themselves,” he said.
Sportswear-inspired pants and tops imprinted with chakra patches are popular at Lucy.com, a month-old Web site that specializes in women’s activewear, said Bonnie Choruby, general merchandise manager. So are Marika boot-leg pants at $34, Hot Chillys pants with side panels at $50, City Lights capri pants with a drawstring waistband at $36 and Carushka dance pants at $58.
Tops generally outsell bottoms 2 to 1, but Lucy.com is seeing more even selling, Choruby said.
Mantra tops — tanks at $30, ringer T-shirts at $32 and long-sleeved T-shirts at $36 — imprinted with chakra patches are also key items.
Shoppers at Lucy.com are spending $75 per purchase, according to Vicki Reed, marketing director, adding that the online store is “on target,” generating about 100 orders per day.
“It is like we opened a store, but didn’t tell anyone we’re there. We’re not doing any advertising until next spring,” Reed said.
Holiday shoppers at NikeTown here are buying Inner Actives, performance-oriented innerwear that was rolled out at retail this summer, according to a Nike spokesman. Bra tops retail between $40 and $47, and bottoms from $16 to $38.
“The bulk of them are being bought by men for their girlfriends or wives. Some guys are coming in with paper measurements,” the spokesman said. “A lot of them are buying tops and bottoms as sets.”
Nike spandex-blend catsuits, which retail for $80, are “very popular,” he said.
A buyer for a major sporting goods chain, who requested anonymity, said warmup suits, fleece jackets, tights, flare-leg pants and jazz pants are scoring. Versatility and color are the two major selling points with many shoppers, she said.
Nike is “by far” the retailer’s best-selling brand, the buyer said. Adidas has also been “pretty good,” even though a lot of other retailers have been worrying that the brand is cooling off, she added. Holiday shoppers also like the looks of Champion JogBra and Everlast, the buyer said.
“People always look for the best price. As long as an item is under $30, they’re interested,” she said.
For spring, the chain plans to build on the popularity of colorful items by offering a wider selection. There are also plans to serve up more bodywear, especially bottoms, and tenniswear is “definitely an opportunity,” due in part to the popularity of the women’s pro tour, she said.