Byline: Melanie Kletter

Vibestyle’s edge is dulling, judging from comments made by a number of exhibitors and buyers in attendance at the trade show, which covers the burgeoning urban market.
This fourth edition of the show, which concluded its three-day run at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on March 28, had few of the bells and whistles that characterized Vibestyle previously. At past shows, trendy music and street-core entertainment such as break dancing and skateboarding demonstrations on indoor half-pipe ramps turned up the intensity compared to the usual trade show atmosphere. One of the show’s bright spots this year was a seminar featuring some of the youth market’s Internet pioneers. (See related story.)
While the show was created to capitalize on the ferociously growing urbanwear and street-activewear markets, there were indications that interest was waning as early as its second installment. This time around, exhibitors were bemoaning what they considered unimpressive traffic levels, while buyers complained of the absence of the leading urban apparel players that had shown in the past, such as Karl Kani, Ecko Unlimited, Fubu, Nike, Fila Sport and Levi Strauss & Co.
What’s more, while Vibestyle is intended primarily as a men’s wear venue, the young women’s business has recently been considered a good opportunity for continued diversified growth in a market where saturation can sabotage all-important street credibility. However, the segment continued to be underrepresented on the show floor.
While show organizers estimated the total buyers in attendance at 10,000, roughly the same numbers as reported last year, the floors were virtually empty by the last day of the show, and some observers were convinced traffic was lighter.
“The show was definitely slower,” said David Ishay of Yellow Rat Bastard, a trendsetting urban store in SoHo. “It didn’t help that they put it downstairs and had it in two separate rooms. It is as if the show organizers are saying that the show is not very important.
“I feel there is so much potential in this market that is going untapped and not being given the attention it deserves,” Ishay continued. “I can’t say enough about how awesome the entire urban and hip-hop underground market is. We are simply, as an industry, not coordinated enough to truly maximize the benefits of what the market has to offer.”
Nancy Simpson, vice president at Ish, a Forestville, Md.-based urban contemporary line, also expressed disappointment. “The show has been a lot slower than in years past, and we really haven’t opened too many new accounts.”
Ishay noted that women in general have gained more recognition in the hip-hop arena, and that women’s urban apparel is a fast-growing segment. Still, only a handful of the 300 exhibitors were showing women’s lines, and among those that had women’s clothes, the offerings were slim.
“We are looking for women’s apparel and we haven’t found that much,” said Jeff Gylis, a buyer for The Store, an urbanwear store in Toronto. “Basically, we are looking for tops and new vendors.”
Retailers said they were generally on the lookout for wear-now merchandise as well as some fall and transitional apparel. Most of the buyers hailed from the region, and many were from small boutiques that are the backbone of the diverse market. Cheng Tu, owner of Upton Fashion, a boutique in Northvale, N.J., said he was primarily on the hunt for Chinese-inspired looks and hip-hop clothing.
“We are really focusing on men’s apparel at this show, since that is what it caters to,” he said.
Among the vendors that did show women’s apparel, denim was a big feature.
At the Parasuco Jeans booth, which featured women’s denim and sportswear, buyers were interested in a specially designed laminated denim with a shiny look, snakeskin print jeans and textured pants, according to Alain Audent, director of sales and marketing for the Montreal-based sportswear firm. A special henna- treatment denim look was also capturing buyers’ attention.
“The show has been quite small, but we have seen some sales,” Audent said. “Buyers are generally looking for backless and novelty tops, denim and wear-now looks.”
The women’s line, which makes up slightly more than half the company’s business, is sold primarily in independent and boutique stores, but Audent said the firm is just starting to open in some department stores in Canada.
At UFO, new looks include long skirts in bright colors made of a nylon parachute material, said Monica Marinello-Duffy, sales manager.
“We are still seeing a lot of interest in utility looks, such as skirts with pockets and camouflage prints,” Duffy said.
While UFO’s business is still primarily bottoms driven, the firm has introduced a T-shirt line that is logo-driven and includes some mesh tops. The company also showcased a novelty item at the show, a long skirt with a scented fabric.
Novelty was the story for other exhibitors as well. Azzure, a new denim-inspired company, offered a variety of novelty women’s looks in denim, including studded denim, stretch denim with fox fur and a reverse-seam denim design.
The company, whose name is Italian for “sky blue,” launched its first line this past holiday season, and sells primarily to specialty stores, said Ruben Campos, president and chief executive of the women’s and men’s denim and sportswear firm.
Another firm offering junior sportswear was a new company called Guest List, which launched two months ago. The urban sportswear firm carries fashion-forward apparel for men and women, including denim jackets, asymmetrical tops, T-shirts, long skirts and a wide variety of stretch offerings.
Joel Rousseau, president of Guest List, is a former club promoter who decided to enter the apparel business with a friend, after “getting tired” of the promotion business.
“The scene with music and fashion is very related,” he noted.