ROLLING ON THE RIVER
TWO SAN ANTONIO SPORTSWEAR HOUSES PROVE THERE’S MORE TO REMEMBER THAN THE ALAMO IN THIS SOUTH TEXAS RIVER CITY.
Byline: RUSTY WILLIAMSON
Kathleen Sommers can shift from retail to wholesale by just crossing the street.
Sommers owns a casual sportswear firm and an eponymous specialty store, both on Main Street in the historic Laurel Heights neighborhood here.
The vertical strategy appears to be paying off: Sommers is planning sales of $1.3 million at wholesale this year, up 30 percent, and the 2,000-square-foot store is aiming to grow 10 percent.
Sommers started wholesaling her designs in the late Seventies in Albuquerque, N.M., relocating here in 1978. In 1982 she added a retail venue to showcase her own apparel and similar styles from makers such as Isda, Eileen Fisher and Kenar.
“My focus has always been easy and unconstructed sportswear, suits and dresses,” said Sommers of her namesake apparel line.
The 60-piece fall collection stays within that focus, with linen, rayon and silk silhouettes often rendered in plaids, checks or jewel tones.
Expected bestsellers include the khaki pants, olive vest and white shirt, all in linen, and the brown and cream plaid linen pants with matching brown rayon and linen jacket. Other styles are short cropped vests, long tunics and narrow and full pants. Hemlines range from 18 inches to 38 inches.
Wholesale prices are $39 for a shirt to $89 for a dress.
“All my styling is very simple,” said Sommers. “It’s a young attitude for women 25 and over.”
Producing a collection in San Antonio can be a bit challenging, said Sommers. “Finding good seamstresses is a challenge and requires patience to find the right people for the job,” she explained. “One of the biggest challenges is getting all the resources. I have to plan really far ahead and make sure we don’t forget something. If we run out of something, it could be a big problem.”
The line is shown in Dallas with Federico Mariel in 2F55 and in Los Angeles. Road representatives cover several other territories.
Sommers counts about 80 specialty store clients, including Cotton Club, Houston; Cotton & Co., Shreveport, La., and Leslie’s, Corpus Christie, Tex.
Her apparel background has always been diverse, even before she began her wholesale firm in the late Seventies. She owned a specialty store called Paisa’s in Acapulco in the late Sixties and before that worked in the fashion offices of May Department Stores’ New York buying offices, reporting to Dawn Mello, who was then fashion director. Mello is now president of Bergdorf Goodman, New York.
Niche by Nilgun Derman
Nilgun Derman has found her niche in this city’s young apparel industry, and she has named her line to prove it.
Her six-year-old sportswear and separates firm, Niche, is angling for sales of $600,000 this year, up 30 percent.
Derman, a native of Istanbul, has attracted a specialty-store following with her easy sportswear and separates, most cut from natural fibers such as cotton and linen.
Subtle pattern play, including small checks paired with delicate stripes, is important in Niche’s fall collection, and colors come in fresh combinations like bright red with sand as well as lots of black, brown and taupe.
Among the outfits she will show at the market are a short and sexy black and brown leopard-print miniskirt topped with a black sweater, and a minimalist taupe pantsuit with cropped jacket and fluid pants.
Fall wholesale prices run from $32 for a 20-inch miniskirt to $86 for a long dress.
Derman aims to capture a wide audience, and her styles reflect the strategy.
Silhouettes range from slim and tapered jackets for smaller women to easy pants with pleats and elastic waists for larger women. Sizes are small, medium and large.
“My target customer is 30 and older, and I design for her lifestyle — including professional and leisure,” explained Derman, who has a master’s degree in industrial design from the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul.
The line is manufactured by contract seamstresses here. “Sometimes it’s a challenge to find good people, but I’ve been lucky,” said Derman. “The apparel community here is small, but growing.”
Niche is shown in Dallas with multiline representative Cheryl McMurphy in 2G62 and in Los Angeles at the California Mart. There are tentative plans to add a New York representative later this year.
Derman came to the U.S. in 1979 when her husband, a doctor, accepted a short-term practice in Houston. The couple liked Texas so much that they decided to stay, eventually settling here.