THE HOT ONES
Byline: Robert Spector, J.I. Park, Amy L. Routon, Rusty Williamson, Wendy S. Israel
LOS ANGELES Residents here love to flaunt their worked-out bodies — both inside and outside the gym. And retailers are helping them do just that.
At Bullock’s in Beverly Center, West Los Angeles, the Personal Best section attracts junior customers with styles resembling those offered by well-known labels like Rampage, Misc. and XOXO. One bestseller is the black Norma Kamali OMO Gym bra top for $27. It has a large silver star appliqué in the middle similar to the appliqué trend on shrunken T-shirts.
The number one seller at Bullock’s in Beverly Center, however, is the black nylon Adidas jogging suit for $99, said a sales associate. Its popularity caused Bullock’s to order the style in white. The store has requested the style in red, a popular activewear color, but Adidas does not produce the popular item in the color, the associate said.
Other bestsellers in Personal Best include a black Speedo cropped bra top for $30 and matching black ankle pants with Speedo logo at $36.
The Broadway in Beverly Center also is catering to the activewear customer with larger displays and a greater prominence for the area. The best-selling item in the activewear department is the cotton BUM Equipment T-shirt at $29.
Unlike many customers at Bullock’s and The Broadway, which are interested in fashion as well as price, consumers at Big Five on San Vicente Boulevard in West Los Angeles look for bargain activewear for the gym. The best-selling activewear item at the store is the matching Reebok bra top and jogging pants on sale for $12.99. A manager at the store, who declined to give his name, said the item became a best-seller only after the store put it on sale.
“Most people come into our store for the sales,” said the manager. “That’s what Big Five has become known for.”
Exercise wear was a big activewear seller in the Pacific Northwest, according to a cross-section of retailers.
At Fred Meyer, the 100-store general merchandise chain based in Portland, Ore., “exercise wear was extremely good, [considering] we’ve had really tough business in other areas,” said Pat Gilkison, vice president and merchandiser of ready-to-wear.
Fred Meyer is currently selling “lots and lots” of leggings in solid black and navy from several vendors, particularly Everlast, and florals from L.A. Movers. Fred Meyer is also selling athletic wear in “Adidas-type looks” from a brand that Gilkison declined to name.
At Super Jock ‘N Jill, a single unit specialty store for runners, women are buying Champion’s polyester jog bra and Moving Comfort’s sand-washed shorts, according to store manager Chet James. Super Jock ‘N Jill is located across the street from Seattle’s Greenlake. The running track that surrounds the lake is a mecca for serious runners.
“We have done really well with the new micropoly fibers in jogging shorts, from Asics and Moving Comfort,” said James. “They are a little baggier, fuller cut; almost everyone in the industry has gone to a fuller, baggier cut. Micropolys have a softer silkier hand. They are durable and color fast, so they have great prints. Moving Comfort has some great prints. They lead that whole category.”
James felt that “polyester is king” when it comes to performance fabrications. “The brushed polys have beaten the heck out of almost all the other fabrications.” His only complaint was that “I just don’t get enough silhouettes [from the manufacturers]. But this spring, we will be getting more.”
At Nordstrom, the 78-store chain based in Seattle, one of the best activewear categories was the line of Callaway golf apparel, which is developed by Nordstrom under an exclusive licensing agreement with Callaway Golf Co. A Nordstrom spokesperson declined to identify the top-selling items, citing competitive reasons.
The Callaway golf line, which debuted in spring 1994, is an upscale collection of sweaters, sweater vests, shorts, Polo-style shirts, warm-up jackets and warm-up pants.
The spokesperson also said that cruisewear performed well, as did fleece and warm-ups “in the latter part of the year.”
At J.C. Penney Co., customers aren’t purchasing activewear just for the gym, said Janice Martz, assistant buyer for women’s bodywear.
“Women want to project that they’re into fitness, and they’re wearing activewear on the street,” explained Martz, adding that activewear is benefiting from the trend toward more casual dressing.
Bestsellers include Jacques Moret Ultra’s cotton and Lycra basic silhouettes, from bike shorts to thongs to leotards. Retail prices are a moderate $9.99 to $19.99. Colors include basics as well as fashion tones such as navy and ecru.
Jacques Moret Ultra’s French cotton terry cloth activewear items also are checking quickly at Penney’s, including cropped tops, sweat pants, shorts and split-front sweat shirts, at prices from $16 to $23.
Martz said customers also are showing interest in styles cut from Supplex, which she described as a performance fabric. “Supplex is gaining in popularity,” said Martz. “It’s very soft, dries quickly and holds color and shape very well.” Supplex activewear from Body Force is set to hit Penney’s stores this month.
At Weiner’s, Houston, a 155-unit moderate family department store chain, activewear sales against last year are projected up 6 to 10 percent, according to Michael Burka, buyer for misses’ sportswear.
“It’s further indication that women’s lifestyles are becoming more casual,” said Burka. Two-piece nylon jogsuits from Avia, Kuma and Spalding retailing from $29 to $45 are bestsellers, usually in bright colors and black. Nylon jackets are also hot tickets when paired with matching shorts. Bestsellers include Kuma’s nylon drawstring 15-inch shorts at around $14. For spring, Weiner’s will showcase Spalding’s nylon shorts and coordinating cotton T-shirts, sold separately at $12 to $15. “Because of the humidity in south Texas, nylon jogging suits are most popular between November and March,” explained Burka. “But the nylon shorts have a 12-month window.”
The chain sells about 10,000 units per month of Mickey Collection’s 34-inch cotton T-shirts in white and brights at $13, according to Burka. Hanes Her Way’s tubular cotton T-shirts, in about 12 colors at $5.50 each, sell between 12,000 to 15,000 dozen per year.
According to Southeast manufacturers, activewear is definitely serving a dual purpose, whether it’s a 40-year-old sporting a silk windsuit to the mall and tennis club or a 20-year-old wearing sweats to the gym and local pizza parlor.
Just as the customer and style vary, so does the price. Sports Town’s Danskin’s jersey top sells for $19.99 to $24.99, while a typical windsuit can be purchased from $39.99 to $79.99 at Stein Mart. Manufacturers agreed that the most popular price points were in this range.
Mike Remsen, general merchandising manager of ladies sportswear at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Stein Mart, said the major change this past season was the switch from nylon to silk windsuits. “Last year nylon was 90 percent of our sales,” Remsen said.
He said with the customer demand for silk, the store is stocking 75 percent silk and 25 percent nylon, adding that they have upgraded the nylon lines they are selling. “It’s such an exciting story with silk, we’re really selling across the board from brights to sophisticated softer colors.” Stein Mart carries silk windsuits from Active Stuff and Chris Allan.
Elaine Fransico, senior buyer for women’s seasonal activewear at the Hayward, Calif.-based Mervyn’s, which has over 25 stores in the Southeast, agreed silk is doing well, also adding fleece to the fabric success list. With the most popular price points being $29.99 and $39.99, suits with clean, soft looks in solids and color blocks are very popular, she said.
Fransico said that nylon has down-trended somewhat, and they are having more success with silk and fleece. She also pointed to success with two-piece sets. “They are comfortable and you can go to the grocery store, shopping or traveling in them,” Fransico said.
Holly Hawkins, manager of Perimeter Mall’s High Country Outfitters, an Atlanta-based store with two locations, agreed the big colors for fleecewear from camping to rock climbing were the neutrals and greens. She pointed to Patagonia, V-North Face and Marmot as being their most popular lines.
All these lines produce water-resistant Gortex shells, which are selling great. “We have Gortex shells that you can throw on to go to the grocery store as well as jogging,” Hawkins said. The basic pull-over, a popular High Country Outfitter’s item, is priced at $82 with tights ranging from $50 to $80.
City dwellers here are taking it to the streets. According to retailers, activewear is no longer just for working out.
“When you look at the colors, you know they’re not only being used for the gym, but for the street,” said John Hoeffler, Herman’s buyer of men’s and women’s activewear. “Greens and blues are very popular. And while purples are still strong, they’re showing signs of slowing down.”
Warmup suits continue to be a big seller for women, according to Hoeffler, “especially crinkle-nylon versions from Reebok as well as piece-printed suits.”
In addition, Herman’s sells lots of tights — both dance versions and running tights, said Hoeffler. Reebok running tights that retail for $24.99 lead the pack in basic colors like black and navy. Other top sellers include regular workout tights from Speedo Authentic Fitness for $19.99 to $24.99 in cotton and Lycra spandex. Danskin’s are doing very well at $24.99 in fashion colors such as spruce and orchid.
The tennis business remains good in the northeast, especially bottoms. “We sell a lot of white microfiber tennis skirts from Prince, which retail for $34.99,” said Hoeffler.
“We’re still remaining true to our heritage of authentic functional activewear,” said Hoeffler. “However, we’re stepping out of the box and offering consumers additional lifestyle components that complement the functional activewear.”
Lady Footlocker, a 600-unit sporting-goods chain based here, draws both core athletes seeking traditional performance wear and women seeking comfortable activewear. Branded crinkle nylon and taffeta warm-ups from Nike, Reebok and Fila continue to be the top vendors at Lady Footlocker, according to Darci Rafferty, buyer of outerwear and fitness wear. They sell in very active colors such as purples, teals and navy for $85 to $130.
“For spring, our windwear separates are real important. They’re a light outerwear shell that women can wear to the gym or to the grocery store,” said Rafferty. They sell for $50 to $85.
Lady Footlocker encourages mixing and matching of separates. “We try to have fitness wear hook up with windwear. For example, we did a tennis skirt that hooks up with a jacket. We try to do a complete look throughout all the categories,” said Rafferty. “In terms of activewear, some of our best-selling items are hockey jerseys by Fila and smaller vendors,” said Nancy Lanzet, activewear buyer for Lady Footlocker. According to a saleswoman at the Lady Footlocker in the A&S Plaza at Sixth Avenue and 33rd Street, the store sold out of hockey jerseys with embroidered Mickey Mouse logos priced as high as $66. Currently, they have versions in royal, black, and red, white and blue priced at $36. Both Rafferty and Lanzet agreed that price was no object with customers if the item was right and she wanted it. Lanzet is optimistic about the jerseys, the shortened hockey season not withstanding. “It seems to be a trend line that will continue. Sports has a definite effect on our business. But customers still want a silhouette even if a sport’s not playing. They’re not an inexpensive item; they’re more expensive than a T-shirt. But they’re new and fresh, and the customer wants something new.”