HERE’S WHAT THEY WANT IN ’95
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Thanks to casual legwear, the hosiery industry had a buoyant year in 1994. But looking ahead, manufacturers and distributors agree there is still plenty of room for improvement.
Asked what’s on their wish lists for 1995, senior executives at 10 sock and hosiery firms had an abundance of ideas, from cutbacks on price promotions to development of standardized sizing.
Here’s what they had to say.
Joni Zeller-Claxton, vice president of hosiery design, Ithaca Industries: “The industry needs to become less promotional. We’ve educated the consumer to buy only off-price items, which is a problem. We need to have fewer off-price events and more legitimate semiannual sales.
“We’re coming out with all these wonderful new products at higher price points, but we’re continuing to promote the heck out of other products. We’re sending such a mixed message.
“When things get tough, retailers run their whole departments on promotion. It’s gotten out of hand. Retailers and manufacturers have to come to an understanding. It involves a partnership.”
Keith Mabe, vice president of marketing, Kayser-Roth Corp.: “We want women to think of legwear as a part of their essential wardrobe.
“Some of the best things that could happen in the legwear industry in ’95 would be for ready-to-wear designers to continue to focus on femininity, glamour and the leg. That provides more options for legwear. While nude sheers and high-heeled shoes should continue to be important, the utilization of colors should also gain importance.”
“There needs to be additional prime real estate on the sales floor and strong visuals beyond traditional merchandising. Upper management should be funding the category with larger budgets since its’s such a large growth area. Retailers should also be working with manufacturers to have a plan for merchandising.”
Michael Berger, vice president, Ben Berger: “We’d like to see retailers and hosiery buyers project their needs ahead of time. As it is, they expect to buy today and have it sent tomorrow. I wish retailers would realize it’s more of a year-in, year-out business; it’s not just a fashion business.”
Berger said he could offer sharper-priced merchandise if he had more flexibility in planning his distribution. “This business of starting today, stopping tomorrow and then starting again is not the most efficient way of running a mill.”
Paul Lavitt, chairman, Paul Lavitt Mills Inc.: “The best thing that could happen is if we could get the government off our backs. There are too many taxes on needles and other machinery that is not made in the U.S. We have to buy that equipment from European manufacturers because no one in the U.S. makes it. Why put a tariff when they’re not protecting anything in the U.S.?
“Competing with the labor force overseas is also becoming more important. We’re in a one-world market now. It’s an inevitable. I heard that workers in Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia earn 50 cents an hour. They have good strong work ethics and play by a different set of rules. We have higher labor wages, more environmental regulations and taxes. The bottom line is, ‘Can we compete?”‘ Russell Klein, president, Easton International: “Overall, the category needs a standardization of sizing and packaging codes to make shopping easier for the consumer. From a consumer’s point of view, the hosiery department is tremendously overwhelming and they lose patience quickly.
“This would make it easier for customers to try new brands. As it is, it’s too much work to figure out which one to buy. Mannequins, photographs, videos, pamphlets or slide shows would encourage people to expand their horizons. Show women what to wear hosiery with, and they will wear it now.”
Barbara Guzy, senior vice president and fashion merchandising director, Pennaco Hosiery: “Stores have to really merchandise legwear and market it, or people walk on by. It’s fun to kick in with color and texture instead of this ubiquitous black. Finding a fashion statement in most hosiery departments is like finding a needle in a haystack. Stores, as do magazines, have to teach women to have fun with it. “Hosiery ads don’t have to be just for a sale. Stores could [play up] the leg.”
“We understand that a lot of women, especially all those twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, won’t go back to wearing sheer pantyhose. We live by the fact that pants are here to stay, but that doesn’t mean hosiery has to be boring.”
Jordan Lipson, president, American Essentials: “This has been a phenomenal year for us. We want to see that momentum carried forward. That will happen, provided the casual lifestyle stays in focus.”
“Hopefully, there will be no more retail mergers. We’d like to see Federated and Macy’s develop into the incredible retailer they can be. With buyers becoming less specialized and more centralized, the onus is on suppliers to pull their pants up and go to bat. We should be their experts.
“But I would recommend that every retailer and supplier trade roles for a week. It would make everyone more appreciative of their demands. That would be a wish.”
Barry Tartarkin, vice president of licensing and private label development, Ridgeview Hosiery: “I would like to see the business become less promotional. We’ve been successful in building regular-priced business with Ellen Tracy. But we have to deal with the reality of what’s going on with other brands.
“Consumers have gotten so used to buying hosiery on sale. If something isn’t on sale this week, they can wait until next week and it will be on sale.
“I would also like to see retailers take more responsibility. The way it is now, vendors design a product, make it, sell it to retailers and then we have to have people on the floor filling shelves to make sure the products sells through. That really should be the retailer’s job.
“The fact that we sometimes talk in a we-versus-them mentality isn’t right. Aren’t we supposed to have similar goals?”
Jodi Marine, vice president of sales, women’s and boys’, Gold Toe: “This past year has been a breakthrough year in hosiery due to its importance in fashion. Manufacturers throughout the industry — of branded as well as designer lines — have really jumped into this area of business.”
“Unfortunately, there were still missed opportunities at retail. I think buyers were skeptical about the salability of certain looks, particularly thigh-highs and over-the-knee socks. In the end, when consumers hurried out to the stores, the selection was scarce and disappointing.”
“Greater floor space needs to be given to fashion hosiery styles and with greater diversity among vendors. If we see this develop in 1995, I believe the growth of the business will get closer to reaching its full potential at all levels.”
Susan Spindell, sales manager, Hot Sox: “The best thing that could happen would be for the thigh-high and over-the-knee look to continue. There are a lot of casual legwear looks that are completely appropriate for work….
“We need to get the message out that you don’t have to be a teenager to wear them. They can be worn under a long skirt or layered with other pieces.
“There’s a lot of potential with the layering effect. But we need salespeople to wear the look. Customers respond when they see salespeople wearing it.
“It’s a simple equation. Stores that merchandise legwear better have greater success. The Gap showed mannequins with thigh-highs, and that’s a real mass message.”