Byline: Georgia Lee

ATLANTA — Buoyed by steady to solid spring business, many retailers turned up at the June market of AmericasMart Apparel here with increased budgets. In addition to immediate and fall fill-ins, they bought holiday looks in dresses and sportswear, accessories and gift items, with many giving dresses particular attention.
“Titanic”-inspired romantic looks were pervasive, in dresses and all accessories. After seasons of minimalist looks, jewelry was bolder, in chunkier “statement” pieces.
The main problem with the five-day market, which ran through June 15, was in the numbers of buyers showing up. “We forget how slow June always is,” said Peg Canter, the mart’s general manager, adding that a strong Thursday and Friday preceded a dropoff in attendance over the weekend. Still, while the percentage gain was minuscule, 62 more people attended this year over last year, she noted.
“There wasn’t a lot of new product, but those who had new holiday looks did well,” she said.
For some exhibitors, the traffic was so lagging that they closed their doors on Monday around noon or earlier, hours before the scheduled time of 6 p.m., a move that did not sit well with those who stayed open the full day and buyers as well.
“To build a show, we should be available the entire run,” said Randy Leib, principal, Leib Associates, a multi-line sportswear sales firm. “Buyers were upset Monday, and they take it out on the still-open showrooms.”
Overall, exhibitors reported mixed results, but often noting that while traffic was down, bookings were even or ahead of a year ago. For Sylvia Overcast, principal, Sylvia Overcast Inc., sales rose 8 percent over last year. “Our traffic was decent, but we made an extra effort with advance direct mail,” she said.
Accessories showrooms generally fared better than apparel. For Wendy Babchin, principal, Wendy Babchin & Associates, traffic doubled last June, with strong sales of “Titanic”-inspired accessories, ethnic-inspired looks and silver. “We increased our marketing efforts, and having the guest designer [jewelry designer Lonnie Lovness] in our room helped,” she said.
Nevertheless, buyers, reporting strong dress sales, bought slip and empire waist styles with sheer overlays and crochet, lace, embroidery, beading, flocking and burnout velvet details. Day dresses in longer lengths, topped with long coats, were also popular choices.
However, the preponderance of gray and darker, muted colors drew mixed reviews, especially from Florida stores that need color and lightweight fabrics year-round.
Lori Ann Steiner, buyer/general manager, Foxy Lady, a Sarasota, Fla., better women’s store with three locations, shopped AmericasMart for “good after-five dressing and accessories, both strong categories here,” she said.
With a budget up 15 percent, Steiner bought holiday separates by Tadashi and Black Tie, in satin bustiers, capri pants and bodysuits. She also ordered easy dresses from En Francais and Kay Unger and romantic looks from Bob Mackie.
“The romantic look is probably limited to a long, lean customer,” she said, adding that she bought vintage-inspired beaded bags by Marico, necklaces and bracelets from Lois Hill and belts by Suzi Roher.
Other purchases included slinky fabric sportswear from BCBG, Softwear and Society, and lightweight chiffon, rayon and Tencel sportswear by K.D. Spring. Steiner further booked microfiber and Tencel suitings from Votre Nom and Garfield & Marks.
Business has been good this year, even in highly competitive south Florida, Steiner noted. “More chain stores coming in pressures us to buy unique items and steer clear of lines selling to big stores,” she said.
First-time Atlanta shopper Jeanne Quist also sought unusual “finds” and new lines for Jeanne Quist Limited, her Bryn Mawr, Pa., women’s specialty store. With a 60-to-40 percent accessories-to-apparel inventory, Quist sought basic clothing and accessories that dress apparel up or down.
“It’s too hard to go to all the New York shows,” said Quist. “We want to finish our fall buy here, so we can skip New York in August. We’ve picked up new things…such as Christian Dior jewelry, Echo scarves, Joan Vass and Eric Javits hats, all for the first time.
Quist bought novelty jackets from Crystal Handwovens, Sandy Starkman and Lorizoni. “We like items – art-to-wear pieces usually found only at craft shows,” she said. “And color is important to us, no matter what New York says about gray.”
Ruthi Collins, owner, Calamari’s & Gasdik, a Hilton Head, S.C.-based chain with 12 stores in Hilton Head and Savannah, Ga., shopped for immediate and fall goods with a sharply increased budget reflecting a just-opened new store.
“We would’ve skipped June — not usually an important market — if not for the new store,” she said. Collins described the market’s offerings as “subdued, classic and not as crazy as in recent seasons, with more variety.” She also praised the abundance of lightweight fabrics such as silks and rayon blends.
Collins bought dresses, which have outsold sportswear two-to-one this spring, from Alexa Rae and Telluride. For holiday, she bought silver Lurex metallic and charcoal pants and sweaters by Marisa Christina, silk twin sets and turtlenecks from Joseph A and novelty sweaters from Berek. To accessorize, she bought “Titanic”-inspired jewelry by Treska and watches by Brighton.
Lightweight, year-round fabrics and California resources were draws for Dan Gilbert, an owner of Hilda Werth, a Boca Raton, Fla., better-to-bridge women’s specialty store.
With a budget flat with last year, Gilbert shopped “close to the vest and less risky than in years past,” he said, buying deeper in proven resources, such as Action Wear, David Dart, Karen Kane and Carol Turner.
“We’re not happy with fall color,” he added. “In resort areas, dark green and burgundy are hard, and only lighter shades of gray will work.”
Gilbert described business in the past few years as “OK, but hard work.”
“People used to get off the plane and come to us even before they went to the grocery store,” he said. “Now they come in three weeks later, to buy ‘must-haves.’ The perceived need for apparel has changed dramatically.”

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