MORE FASHION, RELAXED MOOD LIFTS BOOKINGS

Byline: Alice Welsh

NEW YORK — Although knitwear companies may disagree on how long the strong knitwear cycle will continue, most agree that 1995 will be a big knit year.
Most manufacturers reported 1994 volume increases averaging 10 to 30 percent — attributed to increased fashion in knits and the trend toward more relaxed dressing. And they expect 1995 will be more of the same good news. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some worries as well. The two big ones are the shrinking world of retailers and the expanding cost of cashmere, with prices on yarns expected to be up 15 to 30 percent.
Nevertheless, plus factors are emphatically outweighing the negatives.
“Knitwear is becoming a mainframe business. The product is there — the request and demand is there,” said Luigi Leonardi, executive vice president of M.A.C. USA, distributor of the Malo, Saverio Palatella and Gentry Portofino knitwear collections.
“Next year will continue to be good for knits, although the cycle can only last another two to three years,” said Kenneth Weiss, owner of KSK International, producer of the Beau Tricot and Easel lines. “I don’t think there will be a big dip, just a leveling off.”
“I think our fresh designs in knits have fueled our growth,” said Gary Casarsa, president of Donna Maione, a company that first shipped in June 1993.
“For 1995, we are poised for fashion. We are concentrating on newness versus basics,” said Robert Bock, owner of 525 Made in America.
“The most exciting thing is this ‘dress-down Fridays’ and the more casual lifestyle approach to dressing,” said Brad Saltzman, vice president of marketing for Adrienne Vittadini. “It has been very beneficial to our business.” Manufacturers also reported that retailers are putting more resources into knitwear. “I think knits in ’95 will be bigger than ever,” said Herb Cohen, sales manager of Belford Knits. “Department stores have never really focused on knitwear as much as wovens. Now they are really developing it more, especially merchandising knits and wovens together.”
Many manufacturers have already closed spring ’95, and of those, all reported increases in bookings over last year. “Reaction to spring has been good. We are sold out on a couple of groups, and bookings are twice as high as last year,” said Donna Maione’s Casarsa.
“Spring is almost sold out. We’ve had a great reaction to our new fibers and smaller shapes and bodies,” said Belford’s Cohen.
Meanwhile, manufacturers are pondering how retail consolidation will affect their business. Several had accounts with I. Magnin, which is being closed this year.
“It’s too early to make a call about the outcome [of the Macy’s/Federated merger], but it’s clear that Federated buyers will wield a lot of power,” said Jeffrey Price, president of Jeffrey Price International, which represents the Michael Seroy line.
“I’m concerned about it, but you have to be flexible and go with what they need,” said Robert Bock, owner of 525 Made in America.
“I think that we will only increase our business,” said Sharon Roberts, national sales manager for Michael Simon. “We really address the idea of various price points with our handmade sweaters, from $38 to $124 cost, so we can satisfy the needs of many retailers.”
“I think the Macy’s/Federated merger will see us doing more business with Federated, because it will open up a lot of doors,” said KSK’s Weiss.
Given the shrinking retail structure here, many knitwear companies — as those in other categories — are looking to expand their overseas business in the next few years.
“We have had tremendous growth in the Far East — Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and China,” said D’Arcy Achziger, director of Spadafora USA, distributor of the GISPA and Marina Spadafora lines.
“My estimate is that the Far East could represent at least 15 percent of corporate volume in two to three years.” “We have a very large international business. It is growing at a faster rate than our domestic business,” said Vittadini’s Saltzman. “It is probably moving to the range of 40 percent of total volume.”
“In ’95, we will definitely pursue business outside of the U.S.,” said Richard Mauro, vice president of merchandising for Joan Vass USA and Joan Vass New York. “We will concentrate on western Europe and Japan first.”
Retail consolidation is also increasing the importance of specialty store business to most knitwear companies.
“We had a big growth in our specialty store business this year and without a doubt it will become an important part of our business and plans for 1995,” said Vittadini’s Saltzman.
“Without a doubt, specialty stores are important,” said 525’s Bock. “They are ahead of the market with trends and give service. They don’t overdo things like most department stores.”
As far as yarn prices are concerned, cashmere is the most troublesome, with expected increases of 15 to 30 percent in 1995. This increase is making manufacturers more creative.
“When prices went down, everybody could buy cashmere. Now with prices up we need to present the yarns with more visible details, in order for it to be appreciated and bought,” said M.A.C.’s Leonardi.
“We had a tremendous growth in our cashmere business in 1994 over last year because prices were lower — a basic turtleneck that wholesaled for $115 last year, was $85 in 1994,” said Belford’s Cohen.
“Now prices are going back to where they were two years ago. “A lot of retailers are very concerned about explaining the increases to their customers. That is why we are focusing more on fashion and novelty than basics, plus we are working with a lot of novelty yarns like Tactel and chenille.”

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