Women shopping for sportswear and dresses are asking for more fashion, value and ease in their wardrobes. For spring, designers are delivering it all.
According to Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group, by the end of 2005, the women’s apparel industry will bring in $97 billion in sales, an increase from the $90 billion it made in 2003. He added that although the designer market accounts for only 7 percent of what women buy, national brands make up 58 percent.
Industry executives said the unequal market share is no accident, occurring because the big-name women’s sportswear and dress brands are listening to what the customer really wants in her wardrobe: fashion at a price she can afford.
For Sigrid Olsen, whose eponymous New York-based brand has been part of the Liz Claiborne Inc. portfolio since 1999, fashionable updates are key to running a successful business.
“We have really started updating into a more contemporary looking brand, but still for that misses’ customer,” said Olsen, creative director at the 20-year-old firm. “We are incorporating a lot of sexier fashion trends into the line, like the shrunken blazer, cardigans with jeweled buttons and tanks with lace trim.”
Olsen said for her latest collection she walked the famous Portobello Road flea market in London for inspiration. The result is a line of vintage-looking, fashion-forward pieces. Also, she said her company has employed a bunch of younger designers, who have infused youthfulness into the clothing.
“Women of all ages are being shown that they can be a bit more daring in the way they dress. And they can do that without looking silly,” she explained. “Look at those ‘Desperate Housewives,’ they show that older women can look just as sexy as the twentysomethings.”
The Sigrid Olsen line wholesales from $24 to $78.
Donna Morgan, a New York-based dress company that is part of the Maggy London group of brands, is also adding new novelties (embroidery and beading) and fabrics (matte jersey) to the mix to achieve a more fashionable look.
“We’ve gone from classic dresses to a much younger, more modern look,” said Geoffrey Blitz, sales executive at Donna Morgan.
Blitz said that while the company has always had social occasion dresses, Donna Morgan now has more day styles to address what he sees as a void in the market.
“The dress departments are really only full of social occasion, so women aren’t being offered choices in dresses,” he explained. “There is such a demand now for new, younger looking daytime dresses that are cool and easy to put on.”
Blitz said the company has hired a new team to deal with the demand for these dresses. He said as far as fashion is concerned, these dresses have it — embroidery, sequins and beading are seen throughout the line. The Donna Morgan line wholesales from $49 to $89.
James Bradbeer, president of the King of Prussia, Pa.-based Lilly Pulitzer, agreed that if a line lacks fashion elements, business will continue to be tough.
“We believe in innovative fashion, no matter what market you are in,” Bradbeer said. “We started in 1960 with something that women hadn’t seen before and we believe that we have to keep up that sort of innovation.”
Although Pulitzer’s signature prints are still very recognizable, Bradbeer said the more than $40 million company will continue to launch products to keep up with the demand for new Lilly Pulitzer pieces. To begin with, the company will launch a collection of printed silk scarves for spring.
“They will be limited in distribution, but we see the real demand out there for a quality brand scarf line,” he said, adding that the idea for the line came from the Lilly Pulitzer silk scarf that was sold with proceeds going to the The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. That item alone was responsible for $2.3 million in sales.
In addition to the scarves, the company will launch a test line of men’s wear to include shirts, swimwear and some other beach-related items.
“We’ve been dabbling in the men’s apparel business, but now we will have the product,” Bradbeer explained. “Our customers have been asking for it for some time now.”
The entire Lilly Pulitzer collection wholesales from $20 to $200.
The Berkeley, Calif.-based Nomadic Traders, which makes travel-oriented casual women’s clothing, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In that time, president Len Shemin and his wife, Anna, who serves as design director, have built the company into an $8 million business that caters to specialty stores and catalogues.
“The catalogue business is growing for us,” he said. “We are offering more sizes, which many catalogues are into.”
He said the firm, which began out of the couple’s love of travel, has in some ways come full circle. “When we first started out, there was this craze for ethnic-looking things. Now people are expecting much more than they used to; new and novelty items are very important,” Shemin said, adding that he has moved much of his production from China to Indonesia. “Indonesia is rich in new possibilities for fabrics and novelties.”
The Nomadic Traders line ranges from $17 for T-shirts and tanks to $38 for washable silk pants and skirts.
For the Jackson’s Point, Ontario, Canada-based Pure & Co., special detailing is what business is all about. The company, which has been around since 1998, prides itself on its hand-knit sweaters, which are made in Thailand. The company employs 2,500 knitters to produce its goods each season.
“Each piece is made specifically for the store ordering it,” said Shannon Cooney, designer for Pure & Co. “And each store has its own assortment.”
Cooney said women today demand such uniqueness in their wardrobe. “The idea that it takes time to knit each sweater is really something very special,” she said. “In a way, it brings us back to a slower time, when things weren’t so mass produced. It’s refreshing.”
As far as detail is concerned, nothing is overlooked in the Pure & Co. collection. The company works with more than 24 button suppliers who cut buttons especially for them. This season, the company’s cotton wrap with oversized coconut buttons is a real hit.
“It’s something not seen everywhere, and women are just loving it,” she said.
The Pure & Co. collection wholesales between $35 and $55.