CONTEMPORARY: IT’S OUR TURN

Byline: ALICE WELSH

Contemporary manufacturers say they’re due.
And their strategy for a fast-moving, often fickle consumer is simple, if difficult to achieve: Offer the right fashion at the right price.
Contemporary manufacturers have taken their lumps over the past year, as consumers opted more for hard goods and other durables. But vendors predict their fortunes will turn around in 1995, in what will be a big clothes-buying year for their style-conscious customer.
With prices above moderate, contemporary sales depend more on discretionary spending, and with mortgage rates climbing, executives think consumers will forego major purchases and shift their spending back in favor of apparel.
The contemporary market also sees new customers — defectors from higher and lower-priced markets — as a growth opportunity. Bridge customers are shopping contemporary lines for lower prices, while moderate customers are trading up, observers noted.
Executives hope that new customers will result in increases in retail open-to-buys, as stores funnel more dollars into the category.
All agree that the key is to deliver the right fashion at the right price. Some of the looks the market is banking on include:
New dress silhouettes.
Feminine suiting with a retro touch.
Updated styles in synthetic fabrics.
Satin and shine.
HotPants.
Halter tops and dresses.
A-line silhouettes — skirts and dresses.
Retail consolidation remains one of the biggest concerns for contemporary manufacturers. Some fear that giant retail chains don’t experiment enough, which hurts individual stores within the chain that may be capable of handling more fashion-forward looks.
Many noted that because consolidation results in bigger stores with increased purchasing power, retailers are in the position to put heavier demands on vendors. How does a company increase its business in this environment?
Several manufacturers see growth coming from additional freestanding retail stores and overseas business. Kenar Enterprises and French Connection are among those that opened additional retail stores last year and are planning more for 1995. Kenar, in fact, is considering franchising for the first time this year.
Many firms believe that as department stores narrow their vendor structure, the stores will become too mainstream and boring for the contemporary customer, so their retail stores will become even more important.
Others makers are focusing on in-store boutiques because the line can be merchandised more effectively and the vendor’s total concept emphasized.
Most larger contemporary firms are also looking overseas for growth. Several companies are focusing on Japan, Canada and the Far East more than Europe, where the economy is less favorable.

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