DEPTS. GOING BEYOND THE LEGS
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Hosiery firms are hoping something other than legwear will attract shoppers to their departments.
For the first time this fall, easy-care clothes from Danskin and Wolford are expected to lure more women to hosiery departments. Both companies are banking on their new lines to rev up the department’s traffic and sales.
Brands such as Hue and Hot Sox have dabbled in sportswear by offering leggings, T-shirts and other basics, but this is the first time legwear makers have offered more sophisticated items in the hosiery department.
The concept earned high marks from two veteran hosiery executives.
“This is big news. They’re saying, ‘Let’s try something different.’ I’d vote for that,” said Frank Oswald, a consultant for DuPont, which for many years specialized in hosiery.
Displaying apparel in hosiery areas is essential to attracting more traffic into the departments, he said.
“It’s a good thing for consumers. It should help educate them about hosiery. For consumers who need help with wardrobing, it should help them,” said Sid Smith, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Hosiery Manufacturers. “From retailers’ and manufacturers’ perspective, it should drive sales to some degree. It stands a chance of increasing impulse buying.”
Cross-marketing women’s products makes sense, even though it is rarely practiced by retailers, Smith said. Unlike men, who routinely buy a suit, shirt and tie in the same department, women have to shop in different departments, he noted.
In September, Danskin will unveil Packables, an 11-piece collection of easy-care sportswear that is expected to retail from $20 for a cotton and Lycra spandex T-shirt to $78 for a Tactel nylon and spandex sleeveless long dress.
Wolford is taking a slightly dressier route with its four-piece merino wool collection, which also bows for fall. A shirt wholesales at $180, slim pants at $225, a short skirt at $250 and a long skirt at $250.
“This is not a test; it will be a long-term strategy,” said Karen Schneider, president of Wolford America. “This is not a major volume business. These are special pieces.”
Danskin is committed to its move into apparel.
“Everyone kept saying to me, ‘You’ve got to fix the hosiery business,”‘ said Cathy Volker, president and ceo of Danskin, who joined the company in March after exiting Hanes Hosiery. “I can’t. But I can make more products and make the department more exciting. When we do that, it will affect the hosiery business as well.”
Smith said, “The ultimate barometer is, ‘Does this drive sales?’ That’s what everyone will be watching.”
Danskin’s offerings include a long skirt, slim pants, short V-neck T-shirt dress, cardigan and shell. With the exception of the T-shirt dress, each style is made of Tactel and spandex.
Danskin Packables consist of individual styles or a weekend tote filled with five basics. Packaged in a black nylon carry-all, the tote features a crewneck T-shirt, skirt, slim pants and jacket and might also include a shell. The bag is designed to pass the Federal Aviation Association’s regulations for carry-on luggage.
Packables is the brainchild of Volker and Debbie Hobbs, senior vice president of marketing. While working together at Hanes Hosiery for 10 years before joining Danskin this winter, the duo developed licensed Donna Karan hosiery into a $60 million retail business.
Danskin executives declined to comment on projected volume.
Most women don’t have time to shop in department stores, Volker said. The average woman spends about an hour in department stores each month.
“Once we get people into the hosiery department, that will help hosiery sales. Women don’t go shopping for hosiery,” Volker said. “They need a trigger that says, ‘I need more pantyhose.”
Aimed at women who are too busy with work or children to worry about apparel, the line is “almost like Garanimals for adults,” Hobbs said. Each style is offered in six sizes, from small to 3X.
The collection will be unveiled in about 900 doors during the fourth quarter, which is “not hosiery’s best months,” Volker said.
Even though it is aimed at a sophisticated customer, Wolford’s apparel focuses on casual items. The group will be distributed at better specialty stores and Wolford’s 15 boutiques in the U.S.
“Today, women demand comfort,” Schneider said. “It’s easy, it’s low-maintenance and it fits the American lifestyle.”
Schneider declined to comment on Wolford’s projected volume.
Knits are a way of life, said Schneider, who was vice president of fashion and merchandising at St. John Knits before joining Wolford.
Schneider, who worked as a buyer for 16 years at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Fred Hayman’s, said she aimed to price the Wolford merino group competitively with other knitwear.
The popularity of Wolford natural fiber bodysuits, which were introduced last fall, prompted the company to expand into apparel, Schneider said. Bodywear accounts for 50 percent of Wolford’s sales in the U.S. “For us, this is an evolution. Each [merino wool] style is made on our circular knitting machinery,” she said.
Saks Fifth Avenue plans to carry the group in its New York store, the only one of the retailer’s units that has a Wolford boutique.
“We think it’s necessary to offer a full range of products in the boutique,” said Barbara Lipton, divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel and hosiery at Saks.
Wolford apparel also will be offered in the flagship’s lingerie department, which is where Wolford bodysuits will be sold, beginning in August. Saks does not plan to offer Wolford’s merino wool group in its other stores.
“It’s a special item for Wolford boutiques and the Wolford customer. For specialty department stores, it’s a difficult thing to display,” Lipton said. “We won’t offer it in our other stores because hosiery departments don’t have fitting rooms.”
Selling apparel in hosiery departments may pose a problem for department stores where buyers have clearly defined areas, Smith said. Wolford has the advantage of selling the apparel in its own stores, he noted.
Danskin expects its merchandising options to appeal to retailers. The products are designed to be displayed on standard hosiery fixtures or on wall pegs; color-coded, circular icons identify styles on the front and top of packaging, and each item has a hangtag with the icon.
The primary colors used for the packaging should add excitement to sales floors, Volker said.