THE NEW STYLE: MULTICULTURAL
Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio
NEW YORK — The moderate market has begun catering to Hispanic, African-American and Asian shoppers.
At least two major sportswear firms — Jerell Inc. of Dallas and Smiles Fashions here — have come out with specific lines that target women of color. The lines focus on bold, vibrant colors, mixing black with such hues as orange and green.
And some sportswear firms are addressing the different fit of some ethnic groups, creating styles that fall between misses’ and petite.
Jerell, for example, hired Sandra Salcedo to develop a special line that caters to Hispanics. The line, which bears the designer’s name, was shipped last July to 70 doors and is expected to be rolled out to a total of 150 doors by July, according to Ed Vierling, chief executive officer and president. Almost all of the doors are units of J.C. Penney. The Salcedo line is expected to reach a wholesale volume of $5 million in its first year, with projections of $10 million for its second year, he said.
Salcedo is also in the midst of creating a bed and bath line called Home Interiors that will be shipped to Penney stores starting in May. It will include bedspreads, tissue boxes and pillow shams in rich colors with gold trims.
Smiles Fashions’ Nefertiti Collection, a line that targets African-Americans, debuted in stores a year ago. Nefertiti, which features African prints in black and white combinations and orange backgrounds, is in 250 doors, half in Catherines and the rest in Penney’s for spring. It is expected to be in 400 doors for fall, according to Ashok Gurnani, owner of Smiles. Wholesale volume is projected at $5 million for 1997.
Penney’s, which has long tailored its merchandise to its stores’ demographics, is getting more aggressive about marketing to ethnic audiences. That includes launching TV and print ads that cater to the ethnic customer, as well as reaching the consumer through booths at street fairs.
Sears, Roebuck is coming out next month with its own store line called Mosaic, which targets ethnic women.
But while these stores are stocking up on lines that cater specifically to the ethnic customer, store executives emphasize that they are also spotlighting some of the fashions from their own mainstream private label lines and branded assortments.
“The woman of color does not want to look different,” said Bev Anderson, fashion segment manager for the women’s apparel division at Penney’s. “She just wants more color and wants to be more fashion-forward. We are just trying to pull the things that this customer wears from our regular lines and trying to intensify that in the stores and our catalogs.
“Our approach has been less about specific lines but more about addressing the customer needs, addressing things like color and size nuances, as opposed to saying, ‘This is a line for you.”‘
“The customer is not demanding exclusive lines from us,” said Lana Cain-Krauter, vice president of women’s apparel and intimate apparel at Sears. “She has an eye for fit and fashion, and she wants a put-together look, whether it is from Mosaic or First Issue [the store’s private label brand that is being developed by Liz Claiborne].”
The driving force behind these efforts is simply demographics. According to the Census Bureau, there are now 28.6 million Hispanics in the U.S., or 11 percent of the population. That figure is expected to reach 41.1 million by 2010, growing to 14 percent.
African-Americans, whose current population is 32.3 million, accounting for 12.7 percent of the population, are expected to number 40.1 million by 2010, or 13.4 percent of the population.
The number of Asians currently totals 9.4 million, or 3 percent, but they are expected to reach 15.2 million in that same time period, making up 5 percent of the population.
Given these demographics, last spring Penney’s introduced J.C. Penney Espauol, a Spanish-language catalog published twice a year. It showcases the season’s private label offerings and brand names such as Nike, Adidas and Bostonian.
Last year, Penney’s began marketing its private labels such as Hunt Club and Arizona and its branded fashions to Hispanics and blacks on radio, TV and in magazines. For the Hispanic market, it began running ads in Latina magazine and Moderna, as well as such national cable services as Telemundo and Galavision.
For African-Americans, Penney’s is now advertising in Essence and on Black Entertainment TV. The chain just began to launch print and radio campaigns geared for the Asian consumer.
“We are trying to mirror our general fashion message to the multicultural segment,” said Manny Fernandez, manager of sports and fashion segment marketing at Penney’s.
Sears has been offering African Village, a line of “ceremonial loungewear” for holidays like Kwanzaa. Now it is also pushing Mosaic, which will be in 200 of its stores this spring. The line, which is being designed by Alvin Bell, includes jackets, tunics and camp shirts in bright colors, mixed with black. It retails from $36 to $64.
Executives at Penney’s noted that addressing regional differences within the ethnic groups is imperative. Anderson noted that New York Hispanics, for example, tend to be more interested in dressy clothes with lots of ruffles, while Hispanics in the Southwest tend to be more interested in Western-inspired looks, such as lots of embellished denims. The same could probably be said of most non-Hispanics.
Jerell’s Salcedo, a native of El Paso, Tex., said she is going after a customer who mirrors her own profile — a Hispanic woman who doesn’t want to pay designer prices for clothes. However, she is adopting a broader approach to ethnic fashion, showing denim skirts, ruffled dresses and rayon print blouses.
“The Hispanic woman shops everywhere, but from my point of view, there are things that I especially like that really appeal to me, and I can’t be too different from another Hispanic woman,” she said. “I was tired of looking at all the drab colors and tired of taking up my clothes and pulling up my sleeves.”
Her line addresses the size issue, featuring a new fit that is between misses’ and petite, she said.
For spring, the line includes such looks as buttoned-up skirts shown with leggings and embellished denim tops. Dresses wholesale at about $35, while pants and tops range from $15 to $24.
Salcedo admitted she has made some mistakes.
“In the beginning I was trying to be both conservative and funky at the same time,” she said. “Now, I am not going to be conservative, but just fashion forward.
“I’ve gotten rid of the longer lengths and the faux vest-front styles,” she said. “I am just trying to be upbeat.”