Byline: Georgia Lee

ATLANTA — Something like a spring tonic hit the Atlanta Apparel Mart last week.
After poorly attended June and August markets, the spring women’s and children’s market, which ran five days through Oct. 28, showed a 6 percent increase in attendance over last year, according to Peg Canter, general manager of the Atlanta Apparel Mart.
“Last October was our last really good show, and we would’ve been happy to break even this time,” she said. “The Olympics hurt us over the summer, but people came back this time ready to do some serious buying.”
Sales representatives reported consistent traffic, even on the market’s Thursday and Monday, which are typically slow days. Sales were also up significantly. Contemporary, bridal and accessories areas were especially busy.
“The August market was the worst of my entire career, but this one was the best in years,” said veteran sales rep Arnold Helman, principal, Arnold Helman, one of the mart’s larger multiline sportswear and dress showrooms. “This feels like the old days.”
Helman said sales should be between 16 and 18 percent ahead, with good showings from casual, sophisticated sportswear.
Contemporary sportswear and dresses performed well for multiline reps Michael and Paula Hyman, who reported increases of more than 40 percent over last year.
Buyers, indicating a surge in fall business, bought immediate goods, as well as spring, with budgets ranging from flat to 20 percent up over last year. Vibrant color was applauded by all, as well as clean shapes, texture, fabric interest and novelty prints.
“Color is by far the most exciting thing about spring, and it’s much stronger than last year in key resources,” said Ira Moore, owner of the Cloister Collection, a better-to-bridge specialty store chain with three St. Simons Island, Ga., locations and one Atlanta store.
Moore also noted more variety in skirt lengths, as well as better fit, good fabric mixes and sharper prices among many manufacturers.
“There’s something for everybody, with more wearable, salable clothes,” he said.
Shopping with a budget slightly up for spring, Moore, with buyer Marian Moore, bought eveningwear from Victor Costa, as well as pants looks and relaxed sportswear from a variety of vendors.
B.J. Thomas, owner, B.J. Thomas, a better-to-bridge women’s specialty store in Myrtle Beach, S.C., shopped with a budget up between 10 and 25 percent, due to strong fall business. “People are buying higher-priced items, particularly in the past six months,” she said.
Thomas bought color in knits from Wellmore, San Remo and Tula. Also on her buy list were day dresses from Kelly Graham, David Warren and Linea F. and evening looks from Karen Lawrence and Rimini. “Dresses look better, but sportswear is a bit disappointing,” she said. “Some of it looks too casual and sloppy.”
Fall business has also improved for Susan Drenning, owner of Great Expectations, an Asheville, N.C.-based specialty chain with five locations throughout North and South Carolina and one store in Atlanta. “The Atlanta store was really hurt by the Olympics and is still not back to normal,” she noted, however. “Local people left town during the Games and may have blown their budgets for fall.”
With an open-to-buy even with last year, Drenning ordered Black Tie by Oleg Cassini and Teri Jon special occasion dresses for her better-to-bridge customer.
“I’m taking more time to check out new lines for something zippy that gives people an urgency to buy,” she said. “I don’t sell black linen jackets, or anything basic. My customers can go to Rich’s for that.”
She also stayed away from trendy Sixties and Seventies looks that she considers too faddish.
After losing sales due to Hurricane Fran last month, October business has been up for Touche Boutique, a women’s better specialty store in Raleigh, N.C. Owner Lyn Greenway shopped with a budget up 15 percent for simple shapes in year-round fabrics and strong color.
“Color started to get better last spring, but now it’s in every showroom,” she said. Greenway bought dresses with jackets and more pants, which have become acceptable for career women, in slim classic trousers and cigarette legs. She shopped for versatile looks that could go from day into evening.
Greenway booked microfibers, linen viscose and Tencel from Votre Nom, her best-selling resource, as well as linen sportswear from Barry Bricken. She bought sleek, slim cocktail dresses from Rex Lester and Rimini.
“We’re seeing a better product for a better price,” she said. “Manufacturers are all of a sudden more in tune with buyers’ needs. This market seems to be a reality check.”