NSGA SHOW: FITNESS HITS THE STREETS

Byline: Sophy Fearnley-Whittingstall

CHICAGO — The line between active bodywear and sportswear is becoming increasingly blurred, according to buyers and vendors at World Sports Expo ’94, held here last week at McCormick Place.
Activewear looks that can go comfortably from the gym to the mall were drawing plenty of attention. While many buyers said business was still strongest in basic silhouettes like bra tops and bike shorts, vendors were trying to capture buyer interest with fashion looks, such as printed mesh items and very short shorts.
Sponsored by the National Sporting Goods Association, the three-day show — with 1,418 exhibitors in sports equipment, apparel and footwear — ran through July 19. An NSGA spokesman said total attendance at the show, including exhibitor personnel, was 90,511, up 1 percent over a year ago.
Despite some competition from the World Cup final on the opening Sunday afternoon — booths with TV sets broadcasting the match were packed, but not much business was being transacted — many exhibitors said traffic was good and that they had busy appointment schedules.
Buyers were generally upbeat and said their budgets were about the same as or slightly higher than last year’s.
Carolyn Hoff, women’s buyer for World Foot Locker — a chain of 25 large-scale stores offering men’s and women’s sporting apparel and footwear and operated by New York-based Foot Locker — said she was looking for new vendors to expand her women’s apparel offerings. She said fitness apparel had been particularly strong, with the emphasis on function rather than fashion, like bike shorts and bra tops. She said her budget was up from last year, but declined to say how much.
Sue Kay, buyer for Playmakers in Okemos, Mich., a specialty shoe and activewear retailer, said she was looking for fitness wear that could cross over onto the street.
“Fitness clothes are going that way,” she said. To fill the bill, she was seeking basic and fashion ideas in bra tops, bike shorts and coverups.
One buyer looking to get away from basics was Jerry Overton, a former men’s wear retailer. In September, Overton will open Heart & Sole, a store featuring women’s aerobic and running apparel in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“I’m tired of basic black, white and gray,” said Overton, who was seeking fitness clothes with an emphasis on texture, leotards with low-cut backs and very short shorts.
Pat Sova, owner of Health & Fitness, a chain of six fitness and aerobic equipment stores in Cleveland, who was shopping for bike shorts, T-shirts and tank tops, noted colors were getting brighter, which she said her customers would like. She said her budget was up about 10 percent.
Jan Elick, an owner of Kunkel’s Sports Center, Davenport, Iowa, a general sporting goods store, said she was looking for running and cycling clothes, especially in new fabrics like a blend of Supplex and Lycra spandex with a soft hand, being promoted by In Sport.
As usual, Adidas dominated the upper floor, where most apparel and footwear exhibitors are housed, with a huge, bustling space. Despite this year’s immense popularity of Adidas activewear looks as street fashion, the company hasn’t lost sight of its athletic origins and is promoting authentic athletic looks for spring, said David Miller, apparel sales representative. Key looks from Adidas included HotPants and a wrestler suit, both in black and featuring the Adidas stripe in white. Miller said orders were substantially ahead of this time last year.
Everlast Woman is another company that has benefited from the crossover of activewear into sportswear, said George Horowitz, president of New York-based Active Apparel Group Inc., the licensee for Everlast Woman. He said high-performance bodywear with the Everlast logo had been clicking for the past six months, not only with gyms and health clubs, but with big department store retailers.
Active Apparel Group has also been given the license to make a line of women’s activewear for Converse, said Horowitz. It will be launched later this year. Converse, best known for its athletic shoes, is reentering the women’s activewear market after a five-year break, confirmed Hal Worsham, director of licensing.
“Crossover business has been the principal reason for our [recent] growth, with the body-conscious customer wearing pieces to the street,” said Clint Vail, vice president of sales with Soft Touch, an activewear manufacturer based in Miami.
He said key fashion trends in bodywear are mixed textures, novelty back treatments and unusual fabrics, such as sheers and laces.

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