JUNIORS: THE CUSTOMER’S BACK

Byline: ALICE WELSH

Junior manufacturers are optimistic about 1995, especially after the January market week here. Showrooms were bursting at the seams — good news after an average 1994.
Manufacturers agree that two primary factors are fueling the market’s growth: an increase in fashion looks and several top performing product categories — knitwear, short skirts and dresses.
In addition, several firms have opened new divisions to capitalize on these three strong categories. Last year, several junior firms opened separate dress and knit divisions.
The knitwear boom, for example, led Jou Jou to launch a knit top label called Baby T’s.
And to meet quick turnaround on skirts, some companies sought out domestic production.
Several manufacturers said that the true junior customer, 13 to 19 years old, has emerged again. Demographics have not been in the market’s favor, but the return to fashion has the junior customer buying again. All agree that the key is to keep her excited, because getting her into the stores is not a big issue — this customer likes to shop.
“I think it will be a fashion year — not a basics one. The junior customer has enough basics. She needs a new reason to buy,” said Bob Acampora, Jou Jou’s executive vice president of sales.
“We haven’t shipped much for 1995, but what we have shipped has sold through well. I think that’s a good sign for the beginning of the year,” he said.
This year’s biggest trends and early bestsellers include:
Knit tops, baby and little boy T-shirts.
Dresses, dresses and more dresses.
Novelty denim separates.
Polyester A-line skirts.
Anything terry cloth, especially polo shirts.
Twinsets.
Forties’ retro-influenced shirts and jackets.
Synthetic fabrics.
Not all is bliss, however. This group is concerned about retail consolidation, the matrix system and retail pricing. Manufacturers fear that with consolidation, newness and excitement might be lost because retailers will carry fewer vendors. This is a particular concern to the trend-driven junior market.
If department stores start to look the same, the big winners in the retail consolidation game may be the junior specialty store chains.
As reported in an informal survey of junior retailers last year, manufacturers gave specialty chains the highest praise in connecting with the customer and jumping on trends quickly. Those stores especially cited included Charlotte Russe, Wet Seal and the Rampage/Judy’s stores — all based in California.
On the other hand, some manufacturers feel that the Macy’s/Federated team will be a strong force in the market. Others hope the merger will allow them to increase business by opening up new doors.
Matrix systems are another area of concern. Junior vendors continue to complain that the matrix, mastered by May Co. and Dillard’s, among others, is too restrictive for smaller, trend-driven businesses.
Consequently, some smaller creative firms are fighting for survival. These companies often stimulate the junior market with new trends, so observers say their loss would be mourned by both retailers and vendors.
As far as retail pricing, junior manufacturers are irked about deep discounting and one-day sales. They contend that 40-to-50-percent-off and one-day sales were not the answer to slow retail sales. Instead, retailers should have a fair retail price to begin with and the right assortment of products.

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