Byline: Karen Parr

NEW YORK — New looks that don’t break the bank are key for the junior market this fall.
To hear manufacturers tell it, juniors want the best of all worlds: fashion, value and a tiny number on the price tag.
And now more than ever, they know where to find it, as they scour a landscape filled with off-pricers and vintage shops.
Lina Tsai, owner and designer of Dazy Dux, said the competition among various retailers and the proliferation of vintage stores is turning out smarter shoppers.
“There’s so many off-price stores and vintage stores, consumers are very choosy about the quality when they’re spending so much more at retail,” Tsai said.
Tsai hopes better-quality fabrics will give her company an edge.
“It will affect the price, but just a little bit,” she said. “And if it means making a little less profit to make it better, it doesn’t even matter.”
Lynn Burgess, owner of Full Circle, said the line’s direction for fall is to remain item-driven. She feels buyers go for items that sell many units and then order them en masse.
However, Burgess also noted that some factors might make trouble for junior retailing, like not enough buyers reacting to what that customer wants right now.
“The junior business is an emotional business,” Burgess said. “The girl has $20 in her pocket and wants to buy something for right now, to wear tonight.”
She noted that buyers are bringing in spring too early and will also bring in fall too early — a pattern at odds with the junior’s spur-of-the-moment buying habit.
In addition, she said not enough buyers are ordering from the heart.
“Too many buyers are planning strategically, on paper,” Burgess said. “Rather than being a true merchant, looking at an item and asking, ‘Will my customer wear this?”‘
Clement Soffer, president of Joujou, said the strategy for its junior line, Dollhouse, has been a companywide philosophy for 20 years: fashion at a price with good quality.
In order to deliver that, Soffer said the idea is to retain creative looks.
“The customer is interested in seeing different types of looks,” he said. “We think in general, the stores are boring and miss terrible amounts of clients out there.”
Ken Ferestein, vice president of sales for Not Guilty, said price is an issue, but the product is still the most important factor. The customer is looking for “perceived value” and is also reacting to newness.
“If price was the only issue, you’d have a sea of $9.99 tables [in stores] — and that’s not what you’re seeing,” he said.
Customers have a different way of shopping now, Ferestein stressed.
“Today, customers go to a discount mall,” he said. “They want to be excited, but they’re not frivolous, and they are more aware of the different places to shop than they were in the past.”
For fall, Ferestein said, Not Guilty will compete by offering fashion — such as colored corduroys and novelty bodies — “at prices that are better than last year’s basics.”
“I think sometimes we think fashion is risky because it’s expensive,” he said. “But if it’s more affordable for the average customer, we take down some of the barriers.”

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