JUNIORS MOVE TO THE MAINSTREAM

Byline: Kristi Ellis / With contributions from Katherine Bowers / Josh Greene

LONG BEACH, Calif. — With dozens of skateboarders scraping the sidewalk outside the Long Beach Convention Center and hundreds of pretty young things inside looking better suited for the beach or club scene, the ASR Trade Expo was as much a live trend report as marketplace.
“Truthfully, I’m finding what people are wearing most interesting about this show,” said Freya Tamayo, owner of the FreeStyle store in New York.
But the latest edition of the tri-annual showcase for action sports and streetwear brands, Feb. 3-5, revealed the once-edgy culture looks a lot like the mainstream, with junior brands emphasizing fashion trends from crystal studded T-shirts to low-riding jeans.
Perhaps it’s more a sign of the times: What was once the alternative is now co-opted fast, mass produced and enthusiastically snapped up by the masses. The feverish drive to offer immediate trends to consumers means many retailers attending ASR primarily wrote fill-in orders for spring and summer.
While that’s business as usual for the 550 exhibitors and 7,422 buyers at this month’s show, forces outside the ASR niche are prompting changes.
Fall previews start at MAGIC Tuesday, just 10 days after ASR closed. As a result, many exhibitors and retailers have long complained about the timing of ASR’s February show, which is billed as a spring-summer installment.
It’s a “cleanup show,” observed Randy Hild, an executive vice president at Quiksilver, the parent of junior megabrand Roxy. He noted the February ASR show has “dramatically less traffic” than the September run in San Diego.
Roxy still booked a significant amount of business, Hild added. “This is the tail end of summer, but many retailers still have a need to see it.”
Show organizers are working on a solution, said Court Overin, general manager of VNU Expositions, the new owner of ASR. Overin is in negotiations with the Long Beach Convention Center to move the show to the second week in January.
On the show floor, summer stock was on the mind of Kambria Wesch, manager of Kahuna’s in Paso Robles, Calif.
Armed with a bigger budget than last season and a team of eight buyers, Wesch said she planned to take notes and follow-up with orders for Roxy, Rusty, Volcom, Hurley and Billabong. Denim skirts and low-rise pants topped her list, as well as gold and silver foils, tank tops, rhinestone-studded tops, shorts and swimwear.
Susi Bock, a junior and footwear buyer for the 64-unit Zumiez chain based in Seattle, was on the hunt for Dickies-style pants with a slimmer leg. She said she planned to place sportswear orders with Roxy and Billabong.
Hurley and Volcom ranked high on Cheri Krozek’s finds. The buyer for California Daze, a four-unit chain based in Mesa, Ariz., ordered muscle T-shirts, rhinestone tops and slim pants.
Slimmer pant silhouettes and shorter skirts were also a concern of Karin Reichow, partner in the Board Bin in Ketchum, Idaho. But Reichow echoed other retailers’ disappointment over the show’s lack of junior offerings.
Other factors influencing retailers included the weather reports following a cold winter to reports on a potentially stormy economy this year.
Debbie Harvey, head buyer for Ron-Jon Surf Shop, a four-unit specialty store based in Cocoa Beach, Fla., said the chain was up from last year, but there is still a feeling of caution accompanying her optimism.
Harvey picked up on preppy polo shirts and plaids, “glam looks for surf girls,” low-rise denim and twill shorts, slim stripes and swirls.
Manufacturers, as might be expected, projected an upbeat attitude about the year ahead.
Roxy’s Hild, for example, said he is “feeling more confident” about the $100 million business than three months ago.
The junior surf category in general has been gaining momentum, makers said.
And despite the first signs of an economic downturn, business is trending up for Billabong U.S.A, according to Paul Naude, president and chief executive of the Irvine, Calif.-based firm. At ASR, the company booked a “significant” amount of at-once orders.
“Our junior business is strong,” Naude said, adding that it accounts for 25 percent of overall business. “It is a big growth opportunity for us.”
Naude predicted a 35 to 40 percent increase in volume for the company’s fiscal year ending in June.
Among the top-booking summer items were muscle T-shirts, tank tops, dresses, spirograph flower and wood-block prints on board shorts and A-line skirts, flood pants, long plaid shorts and long and short board shorts.
At O’Neill, fourth-quarter and spring-summer bookings are pointing to a 15 percent increase on last year’s $40 million volume. The women’s business accounts for 30 percent of overall sales and is growing faster than men’s, according to John Warner, O’Neill president and chief executive.
“We’re watching business carefully for signs of a slowdown,” Warner said. If the economy slows, Warner said he expects denim to drive the business. O’Neill’s board short business has softened and has been replaced by capris, ankle-length pants and floods.

ASR Trend Hit List
Spirograph-style flowers.
Bucket hats in plaids, denim and twills, embellished with logos or studs.
Eighties-style golf visors and other “kitsch” accessories.
Hardware detailing, such as studs, grommets, exposed zippers and safety pins.
Mid-thigh miniskirts.
Plaid and corduroy low-rise pants.
Logoed muscle Ts. n Bright, clear colors such as blue-sky blue, cherry red, orange, bubblegum pink, hot pink, navy and Kelly green.

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