TAKING THE PLUNGE
ACTION SPORTS COMPANY BILLABONG IS TAKING ITS JUNIOR BUSINESS ONE STEP FURTHER.
Byline: Katherine Bowers
LOS ANGELES — Billabong is branching out.
The current spring line marks the first time the fast-growing action sports company has dipped into women’s swim for the U.S. market, although the company has offered a junior swim line in Australia for six years.
The company hopes U.S. swim takes its cues from junior sportswear, which bowed in spring 1999.
“Our momentum is just huge right now,” said Angi Broberg, the Billabong U.S.A’s sales manager for juniors, based at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Irvine, Calif. “We’ve doubled our sales numbers in this last year without opening new distribution.”
Broberg said Billabong is wooing its core accounts and doesn’t plan to extend distribution for the swim line beyond surf specialty stores.
Anaheim, Calif.-based Pacific Sunwear, which already carries the junior clothing line, placed an order before the recent run of trade shows started. During the shows, the company also rounded up orders from Seattle-based Zumiez, Huntington Surf and Sport in Huntington Beach, Calif., and Ron Jon’s Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach, Fla., among others. The 30-piece swim line’s overall feel is sweet, sporty and small. String and low-slung hipster bottoms abound, as do triangle tops without much construction. While the amount of exposure may not work for girls in the heartland, the core Billabong customer is a surfer girl who doesn’t want anything extra (like waterlogged cups) when she surfs.
“Some of our accounts have asked us to leave the soft cups out,” Broberg said. “The younger girl doesn’t really need them and they do take a little while to dry.”
Besides offering triangle tops with and without construction, designers Cathy Paik and Kristin Wallace modified a chunky back-tie — a fashion staple this season — by adding a concealed hook that will keep the top securely in place in wave action.
The suits, priced at $57 to $74, are all sold as sets. Colors include aqua, blue, lilac, kiwi, magenta and red, offset with clean white. Silhouettes include bandeaux, athletic tops, triangles and convertible halters.
The line also hits two key swimwear trends: reversible and convertible. Bay Breeze, a Hawaiian scenic print-to-solid reversible group, is offered in an athletic top and bottom, while Angel Fish is a softly swirled tie-dye, whose top goes from Seventies halter to retro bandeau by pulling a few strings.
Another grouping, South of the Border, has a detail of yellow and orange cross stitching for a homemade look. The design is offered on a string bikini and on a tankini, which Trent said is selling well.
“That is a piece you could wear with jeans or a skirt,” said Jessica Trent, marketing manager for the junior division.
The designers have made much of the company’s logo — a double-runner of dorsal fin-like curves — for this debut offering, as much to capitalize on logo-mania trends as well as to signal that Billabong has entered into swimwear, Broberg said.
The logo shows up on the white panels of a sporty, colorblocked grouping offered in navy, magenta and yellow colorways. Broberg said logo pieces are topping sales and have been booking well. Even the Catalina, a sporty one-piece swimsuit with Billabong written down one side, is selling well.
“Our buyers don’t really buy one-piece suits, but they’re picking up this one,” Broberg noted.
The denim grouping is embellished by embroidered hot pink waves and hot pink piping. Other groupings include Hot Tropic, which includes a Batik-style flower print offered in a bandeau top with a keyhole slit paired with hipster bottoms. The print also appears down the side of a maillot, one of two in the line.
The line also offers slightly more glammy pieces, such as the “Hollywood” group that has a heat-transfer spirograph flower accented with rhinestones. The grouping comes in a blue, lilac and black colorway.
Most groups have matching board shorts. Although sales of board shorts appear to be slowing down, reflecting a trend across the surf apparel industry, reversible shorts with a micro 3 1/2-inch inseam as well as longer shorts with an 11-inch inseam are doing well, Trent said.
The company is also running a limited print advertising campaign, with placements in Waihine and Surfer Girl magazine, according to Trent. Broberg said that she expects the line to surpass $1 million in sales its first season.
Going forward, head designer Cathy Paik said the company will be doubling the swim line to 60 pieces for Spring 2002.
Expect to see more fashion, Trent said.
“As the line progresses, we’ll be able to have a more fashiony feel without losing our audience,” she said.