SWIMWEAR: CASHING IN ON CLEAVAGE

Byline: ANNE D’INNOCENZIO

Swimwear makers continue to be challenged by department store consolidation and price pressures. And as stores narrow their vendor base, retailers are looking for strong companies that can deliver goods on time and at the right price.
Another topic of concern is the heavy promotional environment surrounding swimsuits, which is occurring earlier each year. Last year, stores started marking down suits during the first week of June, a week earlier than the year before. Such a move has prompted vendors to push more of their swimsuits into the stores in November for the cruise season, instead of December, to extend the swimsuit’s life.
Another knotty issue among vendors is the continuing escalating price of nylon. After a 3 to 7 percent jump in early 1994, nylon prices rose another 6 percent, starting last September.
The good news is that some major fashion trends in the swimwear category are giving the market some excitement. By far, the biggest fashion trend that swimwear markets are trying to capitalize on is the push-up bra. Some are marketing the new look with billboards, others with hangtags and print advertising. Jantzen, for example, is offering its Magic Bra in all of its lines this year.
So far, vendors are reporting strong sales in this new look, but the jury is still out over whether cleavage enhancement in swimsuits will be as popular as it is in innerwear.
Another key trend is that swimsuits, along with coverups, are now being used as streetwear. For example, women are wearing sexy black mesh suits with their jeans, while donning a long black sheer sarong coverup to go to a cocktail party. Such key fashion looks, like lace-up, lingerie and tie-dye looks, as well as animal prints, all play into that trend. In addition, vendors are also staking out certain growth opportunities. Among them:
The baby boomer market, which swimwear firms are aggressively going after with tummy control and other bulge concealers.
Special sizes, in both large and petites.
Mixing and matching of swimsuit sizes.
At the top of many vendors’ agendas is to target the baby boomer customer, who is getting older and needs more construction in fit. Many vendors are becoming more aggressive about targeting that age group with control panels and extra padding, as well as marketing the suits with hangtags, print advertising and fit seminars.

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