MAKERS GET CREATIVE TO SPARK SALES

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — The ongoing challenges in the legwear market, particularly in sheer hosiery, have forced companies to be more innovative.
Asked to identify the most innovative thing they’d seen recently in the legwear business, 10 executives offered a battery of responses. They singled out computerized designs, layered looks, toe-closing knitting machines and wellness-inspired items.
“One of the big issues in our industry has been the lack of innovation,” said Carol Hochman, president and chief executive officer of Danskin, the maker of Pennaco Hosiery.
A few highlighted how the market’s ongoing consolidation has affected the creative process.
Ralph Holt, president and ceo of Holt Hosiery, said: “While companies have merged and disappeared from the market, the remaining companies have looked for ways to attract new customers, as well as ways to create some new excitement among existing users. The product coming out of the manufacturing arena today is of higher quality and better value than before. Our industry has been consolidating for some time due to market shrinkage.”
He described the shift to improved products as “exciting and necessary,” with more “dynamic” fashion styles expected to follow.
“From a manufacturing perspective, new machinery and material technologies are enabling U.S. mills to deliver better products at more competitive costs than before,” Holt said.
Russ Klein, president of women’s legwear for Tommy Hilfger, said he also expects the shakeout among manufacturers to lead to more innovation.
“The resources that are joining together will be much stronger, and they will offer a much more unique eye,” he said. “Consolidation is a positive. We need to change what we stand for in legwear. I have always referred to it as legwear. Hosiery is old school, but legwear is new.”
Klein said he’s been impressed with how merchandising in hosiery departments is becoming more varied to attract consumers who might not normally shop in a hosiery area. More stores are offering accessories and legwear in a variety of styles, he said. Leg warmers, tops, capri pants and activewear leggings are some of the new styles that are showcased.
“They’re talking to customers who have been avoiding hosiery departments by offering different silhouettes and textures,” Klein said.
Fitzgerald Morgan, buyer for accessories for Clothestime, a 280-unit junior-oriented chain, is a fan of novelty socks imprinted with computer designs. Teens like the look of socks with images of frogs, bunnies, stars, pigs, hearts and butterflies, he said.
“Computer socks make a statement. They allow people to show their own identities,” Morgan said. “The graphics are bolder and more defined than traditional prints. There are also so many designs to choose from.”
Arthur Lavitt, president and ceo of Paul Lavitt Mills, praised toe-closing knitting machines as a real advancement for the industry. The machinery allows items to be knit and sewn on the same piece of equipment instead of two different machines.
“It saves one step in the production process or a half day on the run. There is a time factor, handling factor and cost factor,” Lavitt said. “In this type of high-volume business, a few pennies can make or break you. The margins are so tight and labor is so tight that it really helps to come up with an advantage like that.”
Barbara Russillo, president of DML Marketing, the maker of Legale legwear, said seamless knitting equipment is advancing innovation in sheers.
In terms of casual legwear, there have been strides to use new yarns such as Tactel and introduce different silhouettes such as shorter-length styles to wear with capri pants.
Russillo also praised Hue for its point-of-purchase photography and displays.
“Hue does a fabulous job of showing a lifestyle with visuals and giving consumers information about fashion.”
Hochman praised the popularity of layering fishnets over colored opaques. She credited Gucci for getting the trend going by featuring the look in its runway show.
“I like that look a lot. It creates a multiple sale if you’re lucky,” she said. “The colored leg is a very modern look.”
Tony Taylor, creative director of Look From London, also highlighted the fishnet trend.
He said he is a fan of Prada-inspired old-fashioned type fishnets, which have holes twice the size of traditional ones.
“It’s a more updated look for fishnets,” he said. “To make them more interesting, we’re offering them with prints — animal prints, paisley or even argyles.”
Marcy Pettit, founder of Alexblake.com, an e-commerce site that specializes in legwear, pointed to such wellness legwear products as tights with lotion or aloe vera blend in yarns as examples of innovation.
In addition, the fact that hosiery manufacturers and fashion magazines are working “really hard” to make the category fun again is also noteworthy, she said.
“They’re trying to make legwear an important part of an outfit. With all the colors and fishnets, they’re making a very mature, saturated market young again,” Pettit said. “That’s innovative, and they’re creating interest in legwear.”
Another hosiery e-tailer, Preston Hammer, founder of Gazelle.com, offered a different take.
Scalina of Brazil’s toeless sheers, designed to be worn with sandals, illustrate one of the underdeveloped opportunities in the market, he said. Now being sold for the second year in Brazil, the $6 item is “not a fad anymore,” added Allen Levenson, president and ceo of Gazelle.com.
In general, body-enhancing styles such as Oroblu’s “Shock-Up” sheers designed to lift the derriere are adding value to hosiery, they pointed out.