TESTING THE WATERS FOR SUMMER
Byline: Georgia Lee
ATLANTA — Buyers at the Miami preview swimwear show will get a chance to bring all-important newness to selling floors, while giving manufacturers valuable feedback on the hottest trends.
The preview show, sponsored by Swimwear Association of Florida and Swimwear Industry Manufacturers Association, runs Feb. 26-28 at the Miami International Merchandise Mart. Around 50 exhibitors will attend, with around 98 percent of lines showing preview groups. Much smaller than Miami’s July swimwear event, the show should draw around 250 people, on par with last year, said show officials.
Described as early cruise, summer or transition, preview groups are adding new prints, colors and textures to ignite interest in merchandise that ships to stores in April and May.
Although preview season used to be a major market, some manufacturers have cut back in recent years and many others have eliminated preview production altogether. Some say an additional new collection is too costly for spring’s short selling period, while others argue that the timing doesn’t address certain markets, such as juniors, which tends to get going later in the selling season.
“We haven’t done preview in three years,” said Geti Margolese, vice president of Manhattan Beachwear, a multi-label manufacturer with Surfside, Hobie and Via Marina among its labels. “It’s a minor part of business, it’s not profitable and it cuts into our main production.”
Smaller manufacturers, such as Manhattan Beachwear, may offer a few new styles or compact preview groups. But most higher-end lines like Anne Klein and Nautica still offer preview. They will also be participating in the upcoming show.
Despite shrinking preview offerings, retailers, especially year-round swimwear stores, feel it’s essential to brighten up cruise collections that may have been in stores for six months.
For Stacey Siegel, owner of Everything But Water, a 37-store national specialty chain based in Orlando, Fla., preview collections are “crucial” to the big summer selling season, offering much-needed newness in April.
Siegel said she bought Anne Klein’s black and white preview groups and sampled all of Apparel Ventures preview lines, which generally offered new prints and brighter colors.
While unseasonably cold weather has kept Florida business soft, Northeast and Northwest sales have been strong, said Siegel. She added that she would have liked to see more preview merchandise, since consumers have responded well to this year’s offerings.
“It’s frustrating that fewer lines offer preview, or offer smaller, tighter groups,” she said. “I would buy much more if it was there. I have dollars to spend now and nowhere to put them.”
Preview collections typically sell at full-price on the floor in the spring, alongside marked-down cruise collections. Manufacturers use preview to test new ideas, with the concept that any suit that can sell at full-price during the height of markdown season is usually a sure winner.
Manufacturers use feedback from preview sales to try to be more efficient with production. A strong-selling preview line can also convince retailers of a line’s validity, manufacturers said.
“Pre-cruise or summer collections are important because merchandise has been sitting in stores for six months by then,” said Lynne Koplin, president and chief operating officer of Apparel Ventures, the maker of licensed Nautica, OP, Anne Klein and La Blanca swimwear. “Having newness during spring-summer is essential, especially for year-round swimwear stores and better department stores.
Apparel Ventures’ lines offer summer groups, for quick, in-and-out sales, with no reorders, said Koplin. Such groups are good for stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus to use in spring-summer catalogs.
Increasingly, new collections reflect sportswear and ready-to-wear trends, particularly in sportswear megabrands.
Nautica’s pre-cruise collection is preppie-inspired, with new coverup silhouettes to update the ubiquitous board shorts of recent seasons, said Koplin. LaBlanca has added knits in graphic and textured prints, while the misses’ line, Sessa, has more contemporary looks. For juniors divisions OP and Citrus, shine, glitter photography prints, pop florals and updated Hawaiian motifs should help bring surf-inspired design forward, said Koplin.
New York manufacturer Mainstream, also the licensee for Jones New York swimwear, offers a pre-cruise line to retailers as a prepacked collection of 96 pieces. The groups serves as a test for the cruise collection, with successful styles carried forward.
“It doesn’t make sense to do a preview line that doesn’t carry forward into cruise,” said Peter Rubin, president, Mainstream, and SWIM. “The number of stores doing year-round business is too small to make it worthwhile.”
While small compared to cruise, preview lines offer retailers, who break price earlier than ever, full-price sales.
“If we can sell full-price pre-cruise at the same time as all the sales, we know we have a winner,” said Rubin. “Good performance also allows us to make accurate predictions on cuttings and fabrics.”
Rubin advised retailers to commit to swimwear by carrying ample stock throughout the season, rather than panicking and breaking price too early.
Mainstream’s pre-cruise line offers newness in prints, textures and combinations of the two, along with embroidery, mesh and printed mesh details.
Gottex calls its 15- to 18-piece collection a transition line. The group, which is merchandised at full price on separate racks, helps Gottex test new items, but is not absorbed into the cruise collection.
Prints, a Gottex signature, have sold especially well this year. Gottex will focus on new prints in bright colors enlivened by textures, including a new honeycomb knit group. Prints may mix motifs such as animal and baroque or they may be engineered for body-flattering looks. Free by Gottex, a younger division, has a smaller preview collection, as it tends to address the spring break junior crowd.
Christina U.S.A., a division of Montreal-Christina swimwear, offers preview or “early delivery,” a collection that represents 25 percent of total volume, that is carried over into cruise.
Pilpel, an Israeli swimwear line with U.S. headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz., reworks cruise bestsellers for preview or early cruise. New styles are then used in the next year’s cruise line.
Cruise 2001’s hottest looks, serpent and serpent trim, are recolored in lilac and royal blue. New silhouettes include a double-strap tankini, tie-back halter and handkerchief tankinis, along with coverups.
Rather than a specific preview collection, New York manufacturer Beach Native introduces newness based on retail demand, year-round. Private label, at 65 percent of business, allows the company to test product for its misses’-contemporary line, and its Native Girl junior separates division.