SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Buyers attending two apparel trade shows here last week — Action Sports Expo and 432F Clothing Show — came with mixed budgets and left with mixed reactions to the brightly colored, body-conscious fare on exhibit.
Action Sports, a three-day show featuring hard and soft goods — surf boards, skateboards, snow boards, swimwear and sportswear — at the San Diego Convention Center, ran through Thursday and included some 600 exhibitors. The other event, 432F, a one-year-old streetwear show held at San Diego Civic Center’s Golden Hall for the first time, ran four days through Thursday. While 432F is considerably smaller with 138 exhibitors, both shows had a lively look, and show management credited a general upturn in business in the stores. At Action Sports, there were also early indications of a revival of interest in the surfing lifestyle.
Nevertheless, buyers were armed with budgets that varied wildly — from 30 to 60 percent below last year’s figures to double and triple those amounts. Whether open-to-buys were up and down, many of the retailers applauded Action Sports’ efforts to feature more traditional beach attire. These buyers sought neutral colored goods and shied away from trendier merchandise at the show.
Others, however, could not get enough of the fake-fur clothing and accessories, metallic, neon and pastel-colored miniskirts and baby T-shirts decorated with iron-on decals. These buyers found plenty of looks at both shows.
At Action Sports, Lee Ann Homec, owner of Slope 2 Shore, a sports shop in Palm Desert, Calif., bought swimwear and casual dresses from Shok, Mossimo, Spot Girl and Roxy at $10 to $100 wholesale. She didn’t care for the abundance of baby T-shirts.
“I didn’t sell shrunken T-shirts well this summer,” she said. “The girls are still buying the guys’ oversized shirts.”
Overall, the buyer said she liked the show’s renewed emphasis on hard goods. “They’ve gone back and forth on the mixture of hard and soft goods, but I like it this time. I’m buying some snow boards. I like seeing skateboard demonstration ramps on this main level, too. In the past, I never made it upstairs to see it.”
Although Homec claimed her business was “good,” she said she was changing location because a chain store recently moved to the neighborhood. Therefore, she added, she was forced to cut her open-to-buy in half.
Felicity Schaeffer and Kim Benjamin, buyers for Behind the Post Office — two clothing and shoe boutiques in San Diego and in San Francisco — were more enthusiastic about body-hugging silhouettes at market.
“There’s more variety here than a year ago,” Schaeffer said. “There are less baggy jeans and more funky, fashion-forward things.”
Shopping price points of $15 to $70 wholesale, the two liked mini A-line skirts in silver and neon colors with matching quilted vests by Living Doll. They also favored baby pink and baby blue clothing and furry backpacks from various other resources.
“Business has been really good for the past three years,” Benjamin said, adding that their open-to-buy was up at least 20 percent. “People are more open-minded than ever about fun fashion.”
Susan Walker, owner, and Suni Heaps, buyer, of Sports Fever in Grass Valley, Calif., were also in search of hard and soft goods. “We just completed an expansion from 1,300 to 10,000 square feet in May,” Walker said. “We added a new bicycle, snow board and ski area to the store. The mix of merchandise here is the stuff our outdoorsy customers are looking for.”
She said she is tripling her spring open-to-buy. In search of swimsuits in earthy shades of sand, stone, slate blue and olive, she was impressed by OP, Take Cover, Tachee and Syko. In sportswear, the two looked for ribbed sweaters with little wrap skirts in natural and neutral tones. Their average price point was $30 wholesale.
“We are not excited by the fake fur,” Walker said. “It’s overdone. We’re not that glitzy.”
Angie Lizarraga, buyer for Palm Surf Shop in Mazatlan, Mexico, ordered body-conscious knit dresses by Point Conception in bright yellow. At Portado Sol, she left paper for Brazilian-cut bikinis in pink, green and orange with gold foil. She shopped price points of $20 to $30 wholesale.
“Our customers — locals — like the bright colors, but I like earth tones best,” she said. “I’m trying to bring more neutral colors in.”
For tourists, the buyer ordered suits by Jag that offered more coverage and were available with matching visors and sandals. Lizarraga, who was attending Action Sports for only the second time, said her budget for the show was down 60 percent from a year ago.
“That’s only because we bought so much the first time we were here,” she said.
Leslie Lee, owner of Core, a sports shop in Vancouver, B.C., was warming up to body-conscious clothing.
“Carrying the look for last two seasons has been hard,” she said. “It came in too early, when young girls were still buying baggy guy styles. This summer was the first time I noticed that female-specific clothes such as little dresses were selling.”
Lee didn’t like all the form-fitting looks, however. “The little schoolgirl look with the little T-shirts is overboard,” she said. “Women age 25 to 35 should not try to look like 12-year-olds.”
Shopping moderate price points, she stuck to earth-tone goods. The buyer reported an open-to-buy up 30 percent.
“My back-to-school sales are as good as my last Christmas sales were,” she said. “We’re doing more unconventional promotions — placing full-page ads in the high school newspaper, doing T-shirt giveaways, offering customer membership cards.”
Phyllis Fleschler and Cindy Noboa, owner and buyer, respectively, of Valley Skate & Surf in North Hills, Calif., gravitated to the shrunken look. “It’s attention-grabbing,” Noboa said, adding that for the first time in a long time, “girls are looking like girls.”
Keeping their wholesale price points at $15 to $70, they placed orders for cotton and satin pastel skating skirts by two resources, Ton and Poot. They also ordered lace and cotton knit bodywear and swimwear by Mossimo in such shades as burgundy and slate blue. Fleschler said her open-to-buy was up 30 percent from a year ago.
“We have no competition from malls, and our selection keeps improving,” she said.
At 432F, Alana Kindness and Sarah Cahan, buyers for Galaxena, a women’s boutique opening later this month in Salt Lake City, Utah, liked the idea of fake-fur goods — in moderation.
“We are seeing the different ways designers are using it and it works as details — on a cuff or a collar,” Kindness said. She also favored powder pastel goods in vinyl and Lycra spandex at the show. Keeping price points below $100 wholesale, the two said they preferred the streetwear show to Action Sports.
“It’s more our speed,” Cahan said. “It’s alternative. There’s clubwear here, not surfwear.”
Reiko Mathieu and Gillian Atchley, buyers for Wasteland, two new and used clothing boutiques in San Francisco and Los Angeles, liked the way 432F is geared to the youth market.
“Action Sports has a few funky labels, but this is really the place to find them,” Mathieu said.
Among her picks were Mondorama’s polyester and nylon separates, Cycle’s metallic and satin skirts and “anything shiny, fuzzy, furry, slick or synthetic” at less than $50 wholesale. Atchley said business is “fantastic” for the company because the retro looks its stores have been carrying for years are in fashion. She said their buying budget was double what it was a year ago.