TENNIS VOLLEYS AT SUPER SHOW

Byline: Katherine Bowers

LAS VEGAS — As the Super Show contends with an athletic products marketplace in flux, women’s tennis and fitness apparel are emerging as strong candidates for growth, according to buyers and manufacturers here at the Sands Expo Jan. 21-24.
Russell Athletic, a division of Atlanta-based Russell Corp., doubled its stockkeeping units in its fall women’s line and expects its women’s business to continue its pattern of double-digit growth, said Dottie Dye, director of women’s retail.
Among Russell’s new looks are juniors-inspired silhouettes, such as a double-sleeve T-shirt popularized by skateboarders and a three-quarter-sleeve baseball shirt with cover-seam stitching. The company is also making liberal use of its old-fashioned script logo on many of its women’s pieces.
Everlast, never shy about flaunting its black-and-yellow logo, had luck with narrow stripes, V-plunge tops, capris and boot-cut bottoms.
George Horowitz, the company’s chairman and chief executive officer, said Everlast has had “great success” with women’s fitness apparel by releasing new groupings and colorways every six weeks, according to a sportswear collection strategy. The advertising budget for women’s wear will also increase this year.
“[Everlast] has 85 percent recognition in the market,” he said, adding that this number might even improve with increased advertising and marketing.
Everlast is looking at the seamless category, but “with reservations,” he added. “I think it’s great for innerwear, but potentially overhyped for true activewear.”
Gaiam Organics, a Venice, Calif.-based purveyor of candles, yoga accessories and apparel, launched an organic cotton yoga line at the show. A red, blue, green, lilac, black and natural palette correspond to a Color Therapy key noted on hangtags, advising shoppers to choose blue for serenity, green for renewal and so on.
“We’re combining fashion and performance, with the added value of being organic cotton,” said company president Jay Kester. “The environmental benefit of organic cotton and low-impact dyes is a tremendous selling point.”
Gaiam is negotiating a retail launch at Fred Segal in Santa Monica. Wholesale prices range from a $12.75 cami top to $28.75 boot-cut pants. Kester declined to give retail projections for the line. Plans include a meditation and Pilates collection.
Several vendors, including New Balance and Wilson, launched women’s tennis lines to capitalize on the sport’s recent growth spurt. The growth has been fueled by improved youth programming and the Williams sisters’ popularity, said exhibitors. More tennis-inspired looks may be forthcoming, since a return to preppie Eighties looks — think polo shirts, flippy skirts and terry cloth — appears to be on the horizon.
“It’s been nonstop presentations here,” said Mary Beth Barenborg, a consultant hired by Athco, Wilson’s apparel licensee, to design its new Hyper Tech women’s tennis line.
Hyper Tech includes a variety of performance details, including venting plackets at the back of the neck and terry- and mesh-lined pockets to clean up sweaty hands. Fashion standouts include navy and white tennis skirts with board short-inspired waist details and a charcoal skirt and zip-front jacket paired with a magenta T-shirt.
Athco national sales manager Patty Szakal expects the line to take in $6 million at retail in its first year.
New Balance also launched women’s and girls’ tennis. The Boston-based company has been on a winning streak lately, set to do nearly $1 billion in revenues, according to Judson Vancon, product manager. The line includes traditional tennis silhouettes in white, navy and arctic blue.
While Wilson and New Balance served for the country-club set, Balle de Match, an Irvine, Calif.-based manufacturer of men’s and women’s apparel, struck a note with irreverent tennis fashion, according to ceo Chris Devarian, including rhinestone-studded statement T-shirts with sayings such as “Swinger” and “Tie-Breaker Heartbreaker.”
The resurgence of tennis comes as the show attempts to reinvigorate itself. Retailer consolidation and sagging sales have resulted in declining exhibitor and retailer participation over the past few years. And the exodus of major manufacturer — Nike, Adidas, Puma, Danskin, Fila, Speedo, TYR — has discouraged attendees.
Still, some exhibitors applauded the show’s move from Atlanta to Las Vegas, which has more destination appeal and is more convenient to West Coast and Asian buyers, many of whom did not attend the Atlanta show.
Next year, show organizers said they plan to make apparel even more accessible by grouping it all together instead of separating it by sport.
That should lead to an “easier, more workable show for the buyer,” said Hardy Katz, one of the show directors. Stanley Schwartz, another show director, said he hopes the reshuffling will lure bigger manufacturers back because they might feel comfortable taking several smaller booths by category rather than one large space.
The organizers said there were about 2,700 exhibitors this year compared to 2,900 last year. They declined to give attendance figures
“A couple of years back, there was some one-upmanship that led to bigger and more costly booths,” Schwartz said. “They were having a difficult time backing off [expenses] without ruining image. So they decided to back out altogether.”
And there are two auspicious signs the show and the athletic industry may regain its footing. The Physical Education for Progress Act, passed Dec. 15, 2000, is appropriating $400 million over a five-year period to fund physical education in public schools. Several showgoers said they were optimistic because a slowing economy is generally good for the athletic industry, as frustrated workers turn to sports for inexpensive recreation and to release stress.
In addition, large retail chains, such as The Sports Authority and Gart Sports, are already seeing revenues rise and debts shrink, according to presentations given by both companies’ chief executives at an investor seminar given by Goldman Sachs in conjunction with the show. Together, Gart Sports and TSA operate more than 300 stores.
For the show and the industry, the stakes are high to return to financially greener pastures. Three years ago, Super Show operator Communications & Show Management Inc. signed a three-year deal for space in Las Vegas in anticipation of future growth. Next year, the deal includes space at the Las Vegas Convention Center, which means there’ll be a half a million square feet more to fill. This year’s show claimed extra square footage at Bally’s — but the space went unused, Schwartz said.

Quick Hit Trends
Here’s what buyers looked for at the Super Show:
Low-rise boot-cut bottoms.
Wrap tops.
Wide rugby stripes.
“Baggy” fitted bottoms that aren’t so tight that they can’t be worn outside the gym.
A-line stretch tennis skirts.
Terry cloth.
Color outside the traditional athletic primaries, including purple, lime green, orange, periwinkle and teal.

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