PATRIOTIC DEMAND SOARS

Byline: Marc Karimzadeh

NEW YORK — Women may not go for the allover stars-and-stripes dress Kelly Ripa recently wore on ABC’s “Live! With Regis & Kelly,” but since the attacks, accessories vendors are seeing an unprecedented demand for immediate delivery on items with patriotic imagery.
From handbags and hats to scarves, belts and socks, companies are scrambling to find fibers, fabrics and hardware to put together special American groups. In many cases, vendors are prioritizing these groups over spring merchandise, which they would normally introduce to buyers now. Some are pushing back showing spring until the end of October.
The challenge for many is to be quick on production and delivery, since stores hope the American spirit will attract customers that may otherwise not feel like spending and provide merchandise for shoppers hungry for patriotic adornments.
Many said they were hesitant at first to turn the attacks into a profit opportunity. Still loath to discuss potential profit gains, some justified the designs by donating a portion of each sale to charity.
“I thought we can’t be making money off of the disaster,” said Susan Reese, vice president of sales at Soxland International. “But we will donate part of money, and if we can give customers a sock that makes them feel good, then that is good.”
“We are not trying to make a big profit off of the tragedy, we are trying to give customers what they want,” noted Barbara Russillo, president at Legale Legwear, whose firm is producing various socks with stars-and-stripes motifs.
Vendors also hope the added store traffic will lift fourth-quarter sales, which are expected to be particularly challenging given the current economic conditions.
“Stores are trying to figure out where business is going and they have to plan for fourth quarter,” said Helen Welsh, president and chief executive officer of the Helen Welsh Group, where a top item since Sept. 11 has been an Americana watch by Ke-ri with a grosgrain, flag ribbon. “It is critical that [stores] have their stock in the right place and they are now trying to find key items customers will respond to.”
Executives said they expect the renewed interest in patriotic accessories to compensate for the canceled appointments with buyers who didn’t come to town for trade shows and appointments.
“Spring was ready to be sold as we speak for the Fashion Coterie show, but obviously everything was postponed,” said Uri Alter, president at multiline showroom Apropo. “At the moment, we stopped promoting spring and compensating for the lack of business of our spring merchandise. We are trying to get people to buy these ‘immediates’ designs.”
Last week, Alter teamed up with Cynthia O’ Connor, owner of the namesake showroom located in the same building, 141 West 36th Street, to produce a joint mailer featuring the American flag and each of their designers. It was sent to 4,000 retailers to encourage them to support the U.S. economy.
“This is not about pitching, it’s about sense that the show must go on,” Alter said. “The patriotic designs will bring consumers back into the store.”
Top sellers include Mimco’s bobby pins in a flag design and Amy Chan’s cotton and mosaic tile-coated leather goods with eagle, flag or Harley Davidson motifs. A portion of the proceeds will go to the families of the victims, Alter noted.
Maxx New York has designed a canvas tote bag featuring a collage of newspaper cuttings and the stars and stripes, wholesaling for $25 to $33, with a portion of proceeds donated to the American Red Cross.
“Retailers wanted a product that was going to be well priced to uplift customers’ feelings,” said Robert Rokoff, Maxx’s creative director, who noted that the items will be delivered to stores by the next week. “We held off on developing other ideas, but now we are keeping everything on track.”
Many legwear vendors were toying with American motifs for spring to coincide with next year’s Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and some are now having to push forward production.
“We saw Americana being very big for spring, so we had samples made up and yarns prepared, which we are now pushing up to immediate,” said Raymond Dayan, vice president of sales and marketing at Gina Hosiery.
The firm had anticipated American-themed socks to account for 20 percent of the fashion offering. Since the attacks, this number has risen to 60 percent.
“Some customers were worried about business, but the fact is, this impulse item could drive business into the stores in the holiday season,” said Elie Levy, president at E&E Hosiery.
Levy claimed that the company had projected orders for 7,000 pairs, but since the attacks had requests for 200,000 pairs, which the firm plans to ship in the next two weeks.
“We need to source other factories immediately because of situation,” he said. “It gives buyers something they can look forward to.”