MAINTAINING THEIR EDGE
WITH THE OUTLOOK FOR EDGE A FAIRLY ENCOURAGING ONE, VENDORS ARE BONING UP ON WAYS TO BUILD THEIR BUSINESS AND THEIR BRAND.
Byline: ROSE APODACA JONES
They may be talking a slightly more conservative game when it comes to the uncertain economic outlook and an ever-competitive marketplace, but street- and clubwear companies aren’t pulling back on their alternative aesthetic. Emphasizing the “basics” means offering more staples such as T-shirts with provocative slogans, low-rise vinyl jeans — even a healthy sprinkling of green body glitter.
Here, a sampling of brands sound off on business going forward into fall:
The first sign that something was awry was when contractors began calling asking for work, recalled Jarrett Reynolds, owner of Tokyo 1 in Los Angeles. “It was the first time ever they were calling me asking for work. My stuff was doing OK in stores [over the holidays]. But instead of reordering, retailers said they needed whatever available cash they had to pay other vendors or their bills.”
As a result, Reynolds, who ships the line in North America and to one store in Tokyo, reconfigured his techno-heavy collection for spring, lowering prices as much as possible. He opted for stock fabrics in many instances, but refrained from completely cutting out design elements that distinguish the line. “Design is what small companies like us excel in.”
Retailers are certainly taking a more cautious approach to buying, choosing to fax orders in after a trade show instead of committing dollars during appointments, observed Lauren Reynolds, the designing owner of 10:02 (and sister of Jarrett, Tokyo 1’s founder). “At the [January] Boutique Show [in New York], it was ‘take notes, fax later.’ The orders came in, so I’m having a positive attitude about 2001.”
Reynolds is finding that buyers are willing to fork out slightly more for unique styles. “They care about price when it’s a basic. But then I could sell a dress or pants with a special detail for more.”
Already showing up as a promising seller: zipper-slashed jeans for $35 wholesale.
“[The second half] looks like it’s getting better,” added Reynolds.
Having a unique design or detail is particularly key to the success of brands in this niche, and a constant challenge in a marketplace — mainstream or otherwise — that is appropriating the so-called alternative trends at a faster rate.
“There’s a lot more product out there that copies our racy look,” noted Drew Bernstein of Lip Service. “We’ve always had to keep our look different. But we’re focusing on [product that is] made well and priced well.”
The company is also concentrating on marketing and imaging more, providing retailers with color posters and promotional displays. Retailers also receive a full-color catalog of the entire collection — with retail prices — to share with customers. “Stores can’t carry everything we have,” Bernstein explained. “Provided it’s in stock and coincides with a shipment to them, we can take special orders.”
Lip Service will continue advertising in a handful of underground culture magazines, including the Alternative Press and the gothically inclined Carpe Noctem. “It’s about promoting brand awareness,” added Bernstein.
A glum Yuletide selling season evidently didn’t affect everyone, but speculation over a potential downturn is motivating vendors to rethink their strategy.
At Atlanta-based Cookie Puss, that means phasing out apparel, introducing accessories and expanding its cosmetics line. “Accessories and makeup are easier to get out if you’re a smaller company,” said co-owner Yvette Maltese. Silver and rhinestone necklaces and earrings, handbags and hand towels and other logoed items are rolling out. The company is also scaling back its trade show presence according to where the most orders are being written. “You get those customers at the Edge [at MAGIC] who are looking for the best and funkiest product or those looking for the cheapest items,” said Maltese. “Most of our customers are used to higher price points, and that’s encouraging.”
“If the stuff were for free, they’d still have a problem with pricing,” joked Shawn Peterson, owner of Dogpile, the Westminster, Calif., purveyor of bondage pants and other punk staples. “Even if it’s a great price, some [buyers] will complain.”
While Peterson hears that retail is “still a little bit miserable,” the latest craze for things punk and plaid is proving good for business.
“The bondage pants never slow down, we’re just doing better and better with them,” said Peterson.
A new East Coast sales rep is helping fuel numbers. Peterson is also upgrading internal computer systems and maintaining punk and rock band sponsorships to build business. l Branding is key. Five years after its start, Porn Star has positioned itself in the pop cultural landscape in spite of its provocative name. The eyewear division, launched last year, is selling better than expected, noted Greg Henley, national sales manager of L&H Apparel, the Santa Barbara, Calif., maker of Porn Star and Starlette.
“We’re still growing domestically, but our approach is to keep working with our existing specialty stores. Breaking Porn Star earlier has helped our international sales. We break the T-shirts closer to the show so we can stay more up-to-the-minute.”
The Ts in question belong to the Starlette line, which was reconfigured this season into a T-shirt-only line to bank on the former junior line’s strength.