SOCKS LEAD SURPRISE HOLIDAY ACTION

Byline: Marc Karimzadeh

NEW YORK — Even though many major legwear vendors chose not to participate in the January accessories market, the few that did saw some unexpected action.
Part of the reason the overall mood was upbeat was the recent resurgence of the category at retail. Although sheers continue to struggle, vendors said buyers were confident about the sock business, especially conversational sports socks. These socks accounted for a sizeable portion of orders this market, which had traditionally been for summer deliveries, but this time around also jumped ahead to holiday because of the strong season just completed.
Popular trends included:
Fishnets: In a variety of colors, styles and classifications, from pastels to brights and from textured fishnets with stripes and fishnet knee-highs, socks and peds.
Prints: All-over patterns and prints, such as exotic skin looks, tie-dyes and camouflage, continue to be strong elements in socks, with key colors including orange, red and blue.
Texture: The success of the fishnet has given textures an overall boost, with argyles, plaids and herringbones particularly popular.
Fashion sport socks: Vendors noted colorful variations with polkadots, gingham trims and motif stitching.
Luxury yarns in socks is a growing selling point, with pima cotton yarns, silk blends and even cashmere.
The January market has traditionally been considered less important for legwear vendors because of its limited new product offering and light showroom traffic. Usually, it offered vendors and retailers an opportunity to recap fall business, discuss markdowns and spring plans.
However, the success of the fishnet, textured hosiery and novelty socks has given the category new life.
Vendors said a strong holiday season, with socks leading legwear sales, has changed the dynamics for this January market and given many showrooms an unexpected buzz — and it wasn’t just about last season’s complaints, reorders for spring or the three c’s: color, concept and conversation.
If this momentum continues, vendors said the January market could become increasingly important for early fall and holiday buying.
“The year started off with many reorders,” said Susan Reese, vice president of sales at Soxland. “In the midst of every other category ailing, the hosiery business is on fire and is very promising, with socks being unbelievable.”
The success of socks in general this holiday was partly a return to more seasonable cold temperatures hitting both East and West coasts in December.
“Stores are getting double-digit sell-through businesses,” said Mark Hierbaum, chief executive officer at the DML Marketing Group, the maker of Legale legwear.
“Everyone was scrambling for goods,” Soxland’s Reese noted. “There wasn’t enough to really develop new product for immediate deliveries.”
Another reason for the boost in retail sales is the way in which many sportswear designers accessorized their spring collections, often showing sandals with socks.
“There were socks with strappy sandals or a cute little flat shoe, and some even showed socks layered, which I haven’t seen since the Eighties,” Reese said. For holiday, Reese said the mixture of fashion trends with holiday patterns was well received. Styles included polkadot socks with reindeer motifs and camouflage prints mixed with snowflakes.
“A lot of customers did so well with holiday that they were already looking for Halloween and Christmas for 2001,” said Elie Levy, president of E&E Hosiery, the maker of Planet Sox and Tween USA. “When we showed [holiday] to buyers who had just come from a strong year, they were ready to jump on it.”
Levy said there is a continued interest in color and motifs, such as argyles and daisies. Also, like many other accessories classifications, black and white patterns are seeing a resurgence in socks.
Wayne Lederman, president of Leg Resource, the maker of licensed EG Smith, Harve Benard and Adrienne Vittadini legwear, said the January market was bursting with confidence about the category, with stores even talking about making orders they usually wouldn’t consider until the March market.
“For us, a lot of the focus this market was not on spring, but on fall,” he said.
This market, the firm has extended its offering of textured trouser socks and tights with a variety of openwork patterns, plaids and herringbones. Lederman said the sport sock classification continues to grow, however, even with a fashion spin, he noted the styling and silhouettes are more limited than in other legwear segments.
This isn’t the case with Hue, though, where sport socks drove the market.
The company entered the sport socks business with its Hue Sport line in spring 2000, and this month, the firm expanded the line with a collection of fashion sport socks.
Hue Sport Fashion consists of seven styles in colors including red, bright pink, orange, purple and gray. Some of the styles feature floral patterns, argyles and stripes. The line also uses a variety of yarns, including tactel and cotton and tactel blend.
“It was a very confident market and we already have some orders,” said Molly Mott, vice president of sales at Hue.
Mott said the firm expects the Hue Sport Fashion items to be sold in all 1,400 doors already selling Hue’s other legwear lines.
The new conversational sport styles will be part of Hue’s Three-for-12 program, which allows customers to pick and choose three pairs at a discounted price. While each pair will retail for $5, a selection of three from any sock line will cost $12. Hue Sport’s packaging features a green vibrant background with item-specific images and a bright green hang tag.
“There is a lot of confidence about socks,” Mott said.
Traditionally, she added, retailers mostly came out in January if they had a problem with products, but this market was different.
“I had people buying for immediate because their business has been so good,” said Turi Galbraith, vice president of sales at K. Bell.
At K. Bell, stores were looking for conversational socks with novelty prints, such as cats, dogs and butterflies.
The firm has been expanding its offering of sports socks with fashion motifs and Galbraith said there is a continued interest, in particular in sport peds with cat, dog, turtle and frog prints. Trim details and polkadots are another selling point for sports socks.
K. Bell has also added to its holiday and Halloween assortment. With retailers coming back confidently, Galbraith is convinced that next year many vendors will rethink their January offerings.
“There is a lot more interest in booking holiday earlier,” she noted. “All buyers want to get easy stuff out of the way and it is good business in the fourth quarter.”

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