Byline: Dierdre Mendoza
LOS ANGELES — The later timing of the International Swimwear and Activewear Market spring preview at the California Mart here generally got a nod of approval from buyers, as they shopped for immediate and early cruise styles.
The show was held April 7-8, coinciding with the last two days of the mart’s general fall I fashion week. Last year, the ISAM spring preview was held in February.
Marni Sacks, corporate buyer for the 30-unit swim retailer Diane’s, based in Torrance, Calif., with stores throughout California, Arizona and Nevada, said she was glad to be able to buy early deliveries for cruise ’98, as well as transitional deliveries to be shipped in late May and through June.
“April works better for me than February, because you can give feedback to manufacturers who are still developing their lines. You can tell them what’s worked so far on the floor and they can make changes. That ends up benefiting everyone,” she said.
Thirty-four exhibitors presented swimwear at the show, with such multiline resources as Authentic Fitness Corp., Apparel Ventures, The Sirena Apparel Group and Beach Patrol showing new goods in a variety of ranges. Also participating were such prominent brands as Jantzen and Gottex.
Buyer turnout sometimes had a limited look, perhaps due to the show’s hitting at the peak of a strong spring season, which kept retailers busy manning their stores. Still, several showrooms reported brisk business in line with what they say has been an active season in general.
“We hope this market will allow regional buyers to bridge the gap that’s created from January to May, when merchandise has been on the floor getting stale,” said Alan Schwartz, president of ISAM and executive vice president of Manhattan Beachwear, manufacturer of Hobie, Surfside and Via Marina swimwear. “It may be a slow process of building this market in order to give folks a reason to come.”
Going forward, this pre-ISAM will continue to coincide with fall I dates in Los Angeles, according to Ruth McKeown, executive director of marketing for California Mart. “[It’s] an opportunity for ISAM exhibitors to see additional specialty stores and visit some new accounts due to an established buyers base that comes to Los Angeles for fall L.A. Fashion Week,” she said.
Reflecting a widespread upbeat mood among vendors, Howard Greller, president of Beach Patrol, said junior swimwear sales are up by 40 percent on the average over last year, driven by halter tops and boy-leg suits in brights. Manufacturers are banking on that combo to be a significant windfall for the junior market after several years of sluggish business. Greller also cited the entry of baby boomers’ offspring into the swimwear market as another factor lifting the business.
Michelle Boylan, senior vice president of sales for Beach Patrol’s junior divisions, Daffy Waterwear, Tango Rose and Rebel Beach, said styles are moving away from the stiffly constructed, bust-enhanced looks popular during the past several seasons in favor of looser, active- and sportswear-inspired styling.
“Boy-legs and halters can be worn as crossover-to-sportswear pieces, so many of the girls are buying more than one suit and wearing the tops with jeans,” said Boylan.
Greller added that Beach Patrol’s misses’ and contemporary business has also been strong. Beach Patrol’s Jag line, which caters to women over 30, has doubled in volume since last year.
At the Nautica division of Apparel Ventures, vice president of sales and marketing Jeff Turpin said buyers have responded to Nautica for targeting the fitness-oriented woman with suits that marry fashion details with active styling. The line was launched in October of last year with a limited distribution. He also noted halter tops and boy-legs were strong sellers in the junior area, particularly in piques and doubleknit ribbed fabrications.
Authentic Fitness showed its designer lines, as well as launching the licensed Rampage Swimwear, a fashion-forward line targeted to a junior-to-contemporary customer. Buyers placed orders for all divisions, according to a showroom representative, but specifically responded to the brown and white swimwear group from the Anne Cole division and the directional black and white story from Rampage.
Buyers often shopped the offerings in an optimistic frame of mind. For example, Marni Sacks of Diane’s said her business is up by 60 percent over this time last year, partly due to the fact that Diane’s recently opened 10 new stores and partly because “halter tops and HotPants are explosive.”
She noted said she’s planning to promote the color brown for May and was glad to find a brown group from Anne Cole. In addition, she bought textured looks and junior goods from Beach Patrol, Manhattan Beachwear, XOXO and Rampage.
Kathleen Egan Mudd of Canyon Beachwear, an eight-unit retailer based in Santa Monica, Calif., said she did not write orders at the show, but plans to buy Rampage for its directional styling, in addition to such established lines as Anne Cole, Calvin Klein, Beach Patrol and Gottex.
Mudd said she’s expecting a 15 percent increase in volume sales over last year, but did not have a specific open-to-buy planned.
“In general, the economy is better so people are feeling more confident about making purchases like swimwear, which is really a luxury item,” said Mudd, who receives new goods every five to eight weeks. “The L.A. customer is more forward than in other parts of the country. She wants the trends.”
Helmut Behensky, co-owner of Bea’s Swimwear, a 41-year-old retailer with units in Northridge and Palm Desert, Calif., said he was in favor of the April show because it allowed him to place orders for June and early July deliveries. At the Apparel Ventures showroom, he wrote orders for scoop bottoms and halter and trapeze tops with boy-leg shorts from the junior resources and shopped the other divisions as well.
Behensky said he expects a 30 percent increase in business over last year, estimating his junior business will improve by 50 percent. Though he had no set budget for the April market, Behensky attributed the upswing in the market to the cyclical nature of the industry and the return of a bright palette to swimwear.
“We’re coming off two years of a bad color cycle, and this year we’re back to brights,” he said. “Swimwear has always sold well in brights regardless of the trends, and now we’re back to colorful, happy-looking merchandise.”
Canadian retailer Lori Bacon, owner of Swimco, with four stores in Calgary, Alberta and three stores in Vancouver, British Columbia, said she sells swimwear year-round due to Canadians’ need to escape the cold winter months.
Bacon has been frustrated by not having fresh goods from May to September and welcomed the April market as an opportunity to get new deliveries as early as June.
“We have a fashion business and you need freshness. You rarely, if ever, know what the reaction will be on the floor, but this [time frame] allows you to test the waters with an early indication of what cruise will be like,” she said.
Bacon said she had a record March and that business is up by about 25 percent over last year. She is a Canadian test store for Jantzen, so she bought them at home, but shopped from all divisions offered at Beach Patrol and Authentic Fitness.