FASHION POWERS OUTLOOK
Byline: Alice Welsh
NEW YORK — Junior manufacturers are, by and large, an optimistic bunch. After a few rocky years and a not-so-stellar ’94, and despite concerns about consolidation, this group is looking forward to a strong 1995.
Driving the recovery is the return to fashion from basics, several strong product categories and the revival of the true junior customer. Also, several firms introduced new divisions, which have helped fuel growth.
But the biggest worry for 1995 is retail consolidation.
“I am very enthusiastic about 1995. There was no newness for a long time,” said Bridgette Andrews, president of Rampage Clothing. “Sales were driven by price point, and everybody hit bottom. We had to get out there and ask a lot of questions and react to what the customer was telling us.”
“It’s exciting now because we are seeing the emergence of the true better junior customer this year, and I think it will continue 100 percent going forward,” said Ady Gluck-Frankel, owner and designer of Necessary Objects.
“I am having requests for size one that I haven’t had for years. In the past few years, everyone always wanted extra sizes 9-13. I think that tells something about who is shopping — it’s the advent of the junior customer,” she said.
“Next year should be good, and it should continue so. We’ve had some tough times with demographics not in our favor, and it’s traditionally a tough business,” said Michael Schultz, president of Urban Outfitters.
“I am cautiously optimistic about 1995,” said Barry Bates, senior vice president of sales for Esprit Apparel. “I am a little concerned that business at retail is not better than it is.
“I see a tremendous amount of basic product out there, and I don’t think that’s what the junior customer is looking for.
“The junior customer is 13 to 19 years old, and she has emerged again. Department stores have a good shot with her if they continue to turn up the heat on the fashion part of the business. Then there will be a success for everyone,” said Bates.
“The business is still tough and flat, but the one thing that is really selling is fashion,” said Gregg Fiene, owner of XOXO.
Concerns about retail consolidation vary among junior manufacturers. The winner here may be the junior specialty store chains, which are especially strong in this market.
“There is going to be some confusion in the industry for a while. It will wind up with fewer manufacturers, which will result in less excitement in the stores. The stores need a lot of newness to get the customer,” said Janie Press, sales director for Switch.
“In a certain way its positive because the team that was put together at Macy’s is formidable,” said Gluck-Frankel. It’s a strong team that really understands juniors. The combination of Federated and Macy’s will be an interesting force to reckon with in juniors.”
“I don’t think department stores really cater to the junior customer when it comes to fashion, and this won’t be helped by the merger,” said Orly Dahan, owner and president of Tag Rag. “I think they have alienated the customer from their stores, so she is shopping the chain stores that understand her.”
“I’m not worried about the merger. I think it will help us grow our Federated business,” said Daniel Dougherty, vice president and director of sales for Ultra Pink.
“I think if you are not on a matrix and have a great product, you may be hurt. It’s unfortunate for the market because the stimulus in juniors often comes from companies not on the matrix. This market needs fashion and newness,” said Esprit’s Bates.
Three big categories driving junior spring business which should continue throughout the year are dresses, skirts and knit tops.
Several manufacturers opened new dress and knitwear divisions in 1994 and for 1995.
“Dresses have been strong. We use a lot of fabrics — denim, linen and a high quality printed crepe. We just shipped spring tests, and they are blowing out,” said Rampage’s Andrews. “There’s a strong reaction to novelty — patterns, seersucker, checks — not just an updated version of last year’s styles, but a whole breath of fresh air.” XOXO opened a separate dress division this year and shipped for the first time in January. “I hired a separate dress designer and sales team, and sales went from $200,000 to almost $850,000 a month” since January, said Fiene.
Tag Rag also opened a dress line last year that shipped for June 1994. “The price point was just right, and we focused on the chains and small specialty stores,” said Dalhan.
“For spring ’95, the dress is sensational because we left the spring ’94 dresses behind and moved forward into new silhouettes and fabrications,” said Esprit’s Bates.
“Slipdresses are no longer an issue for us,” said Switch’s Press. “The short baby doll has replaced the slip and has been booking very well. The denim dress boom is continuing. We are shipping a lighter-weight 6-ounce denim.”
Not everyone is quite so bullish about dresses. “I think buyers are being a little cautious about dresses. There was so much product out there last year that it became a real promotional business, but I think it should improve,” said Urban Outfitters’ Schultz.
The skirt shows no signs of dying. Ultra Pink had its best year since 1989 because the company started a domestic production business for skirts in May. Previously, the whole line had been produced in India and the Far East.
“We’ve done poly/rayon skirts instead of just cotton. Pleated styles, kilts and A-lines have been big,” said Ultra Pink’s Dougherty. “Our business is up 30 percent, and it’s all from this domestic business. We doubled our business with Macy’s just because of the skirt.”
“We’ve had a huge reaction to short skirts,” said Rampage’s Andrews. “We shipped three new bodies that checked this week. The skirt with knit top business is strong.”
“I think the big sleeper of the year will be the long skirt for spring,” said Gluck-Frankel.
Fueled by the success of the baby T-shirt and woven skirt business, the knit top business is booming in juniors.
Switch expanded into knits for 1995. “Knit tops are being layered under denim dresses and worn with skirts,” said Press.
Rampage also opened a separate knit division in 1994, which Andrews calls “fashion basics at a moderate price point.” It’s been big for the company with Federated and Dillard’s, according to Andrews.
“We’ve taken the knit top business to another level from where we were for spring 1994,” said Esprit’s Bates. “It’s fueled in part by the strong skirt business.”
“Knits are doing great in ’95. Basic knits are becoming a price issue, so novelty is key. We are getting a great reaction to our sequined knits,” said Ultra Pink’s Dougherty.
Tag Rag has had a lot of success with synthetic knits, like a feminine version of the “Kramer” shirt, based on the character’s attire on the television show “Seinfeld.”
Knitwear continues to be strong for Urban Outfitters. “We were one of the first people with the baby T, and it has been excellent for a year. Now it’s more about close fit than just the baby T,” said Schultz.