VENDORS SEE MAJOR MARKET IN JUNIORS
Byline: Karyn Monget
NEW YORK — Looking for a cyber goddess in the boudoir? A cow-print pajama set to go with milk and cookies — or a skimpy Lolita-inspired chemise?
Welcome to junior innerwear.
Retailers and manufacturers say the junior classification is brimming with lots of potential, and over the past year more vendors have jumped into the junior arena.
The general idea is to offer nonmatronly looks to a teen, a woman in her 20s and early 30s, or even an aging baby boomer who yearns for the Wonder Years. Retailers and vendors also hope that beefing up a junior stockpile will bolster an already expansive innerwear business that in total rang up sales of $10 billion in 1996.
The most popular junioresque looks go two ways: loose and layered tops and bottoms — almost verging on sloppy — and abbreviated stretch items, many of which reveal the midriff and belly button.
Cotton, as well as Lycra spandex blends, continues to be a leading classification.
Sheer also is hot, such as Victoria’s Secret’s glossy, transparent bras and panties called Angels. A Victoria’s Secret spokeswoman said the retailer conducted focus groups with college students before the March launch, noting “college girls thought it was very cool — a flashback to the Seventies and ‘Charlie’s Angels.”‘
Most prominent on the junior innerwear scene is The Warnaco Group’s Calvin Klein label, which expanded its CK collection this spring to include more fashion colors and minimal-styled tops and bottoms of textured and striped cotton knits. CK innerwear — which has a strong sportswear flavor — is predominantly aimed at the teen market.
“The sell-throughs of CK [innerwear] at stores this spring have been phenomenal,” said Linda J. Wachner, Warnaco president, chairman and chief executive officer. “It’s hip — that’s why it’s selling.”
Several key vendors have tapped into this youthful venue this year: Charles Komar & Sons introduced Planet Sleep, a junior sleepwear line in January, and NAP Inc. launched a licensed collection of junior-inspired sleepwear and daywear by XOXO in March. Atlas Imports unveiled a line of junior sleepwear bearing the licensed Generra label.
Judy Vella, director of merchandising and design for Planet Sleep, singled out a motif featuring a woman in silhouette dubbed the Cyber Goddess as the most successful idea in the junior line, introduced in January. The Cyber Goddess group will be expanded for spring and summer 1998.
“We are trying to build her identity as a she-hero, and we plan to put her on the Internet, a kind of Dear Abby for teens,” Vella said.
“We’ll be doing a lot of Lolita looks at the May market, like cute allover heart-lace trimmed camis and HotPants with red ruffles,” said Linda Aaron, director of design for the licensed XOXO line and other areas at NAP. “There will be a lot of hip-hugger everythings, including bell-bottom pajamas.
“Junior sleepwear is becoming an important category, and retailers are starting to set up special junior areas in departments like sportswear — it’s item-driven,” Aaron said.
Susan Engle, vice president of sales and marketing for the licensed Generra line, projected wholesale sales the first year at $1.3 million. Distribution is aimed at department stores.
“There are a lot of activewear-related looks,” Engle said. “We thought the Generra name appeals to a customer in the 16-to-45 age range. The looks aren’t trendy; they’re fun and young looking.”
Karen Neuburger, designer and an owner of the sleepwear label that bears her name, said she will introduce a collection in May called Karen Neuburger Juniors. There will be two groups: “Soccer sloppy” baggy shorts and oversized tops, and “tight interlock and Lycra looks like little midriff tops exposing the belly button — the way the kids like it.” Prints will include frogs and stars.
“I’m appealing to the kids, but I believe it’s the parents, the grandparents and Aunt Betty who are going to buy the sleepwear,” Neuburger said.
Other established labels known for their junior flair and whimsical prints expanded assortments this spring. They include Joe Boxer Girlfriend at Joe Boxer Corp., French Jenny at Richard Leeds International, Go Figure at Intapp Group, Nick & Nora at Shady Character and Intimate Resources, which has a stable of licensed characters and the Max & Eddie label.
Whimsical prints are particularly strong — whether it’s Joe Boxer Girlfriend’s “smiley licky face,” or French Jenny’s shampoo theme with “Gotta wash that man out of my hair” logos. The bulk of the business, though, is generated by more mainstream prints, such as puppy dogs, oversized daisies and rainbow-colored plaids, say vendors.
“March was the first market where retailers came in specifically asking for junior looks,” said Scott French, executive vice president of sales and merchandising at French Jenny. “That was very strange to us, because retailers have always been so focused on just one type of customer, an older customer.
“Retailers have told us they have a real desire to exploit this business of younger, fashion-minded consumers,” continued French. “They’re saying ‘We have this younger customer who has expendable income — and no credit card debt.”
Denise Slattery, vice president of marketing at Joe Boxer, noted, “Our merchandise is generally tilted to a much broader consumer base. Retailers, though, certainly are telling us Joe Boxer Girlfriend is growing their junior business.”
Eddie Betesh, chairman and ceo of Intimate Resources, said: “Our Max & Eddie line is being revamped for May and will be totally junior. Before, it was targeted to the 19-to-32-year-old. Now, it’s aimed at the 14-to-21-year-old.”
Wacoal America — which owns the Teenform label — is seeing a resurgence of interest in the “first bras, as well as fashion bras and sports bras for teens,” said Alan Fisher, vice president of merchandising at Wacoal.
“There’s been a stronger demand this year for more fashion looks in teen bras in satin and even underwire styles,” Fisher said. “The business really is developing into a junior business, whereas before, it was a business targeted to very young girls.”
Fisher further noted, “Teenform usually is bought by a children’s wear buyer, but in some department stores, it’s recently become an important classification in women’s bra departments.”