OUTERWEAR: A BREAK IN THE CLOUDS
Byline: Dianne M. Pogoda and Arthur Friedman
Outerwear was among the more disappointing categories at retail last fall, but makers project a better 1995, led by fashion trends in active outerwear and precious fibers.
Fall 1994 was one of the grimmest seasons in years, according to many makers and retailers, who said warm weather in October and November wreaked havoc on full-price sales.
Units were sold once a cold snap finally embraced the northern half of the country in December, but business was done at highly promotional prices, and profit margins eroded.
Wools and wool blends are still the largest category, generating 72 percent of coat sales, according to a women’s coat survey conducted among retailers by The Wool Bureau.
Active outerwear, while still a relatively small classification, is the avenue for growth this year, according to some makers.
Manufacturers can’t influence the weather, but there are other issues that could impact business this year over which they have some control.
The price of wool and precious fibers, like cashmere, angora, camel and alpaca, has risen. Makers can reevaluate sourcing and work more closely with mills to try to rein in costs.
Retailers, already diminished through consolidation, could be gun-shy for fall after getting stuck with inventory from last year. Makers can adjust their production to meet realistic inventory requirements.
“It was definitely a tough year for outerwear and rainwear,” said Nina Churchill, national sales manager for the women’s division of Sanyo Fashion House. “The combination of a lack of consumer interest and too many promotions resulted in a difficult year for many stores. As a company we came out of it pretty good, but it is effecting spring rainwear business because stores are stuck with inventory.”
Churchill said stores got nervous earlier than usual this year and started a promotional frenzy that continued through this month.
For next fall, Sanyo’s strategy is to focus less on basics and more on special items to entice customers, Churchill said. The one basic item that will be repeated is a packable polyester and nylon microfiber raincoat sold with a carrying pouch. Retailing for $175, the coat was a hit in Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue catalogs.
The Wool Bureau said many styles for fall will have a more feminine flair. Fabrics will include luxe combinations of cashmere, mohair and alpaca; soft, plush velours; novelty bouclés, tweeds and twills.
Some silhouettes include high-waisted princess; swing; oversized and wraparound shapes; short, sporty or boxy looks; trench and belted styles, and simple, unstructured square shapes draping around the body.
Susan La Monica, division head of Jones New York Outerwear, a licensed division of Amerex, said 1994 — the year the company launched its active outerwear collection — was difficult at retail, but yielded some bestsellers. These styles will be produced under its JNY label this fall, while the Jones New York line is starting with a fresh collection.
Among the hits that will be on JNY are a coat with detachable scarf, anoraks with fake-fur trim and long microfiber coats with the fake-fur collar and cuffs.
Morris Goldfarb, chairman and chief executive officer at G-III Apparel Group, said: “There isn’t a retailer or vendor that hasn’t conceded that it was a tough year for outerwear in 1994. So, the key issues relate to how to build a profitable coat business and how to entice the consumer to buy again.”
Goldfarb said based on recent discussions with retailers, the focus is on cultivating partnerships with key vendors to develop new products in cloth and leather that will peak consumer interest.”Retailers recognize that you can’t replace fourth-quarter coat business with T-shirts, so we’re getting good early direction and participation from them as we plan for fall ’95,” he said.
Some areas that did well this past season and are expected to excel next fall are real and faux shearlings, textured leathers, and colorful, down-filled active outerwear.