Because of trend-hungry teens and their generous parents, the junior and young contemporary markets are faring well.
“Every day, I count my blessings that I’m in the juniors business,” said Lisa Engelman, director of sales for Los Angeles-based Paris Blues. “Parents will deprive themselves before they deprive their kids, so teenagers are still out there buying clothes.”
Stephen Brown, vice president of sales for Fang, a Los Angeles-based T-shirt company, also said he is upbeat about the economy. “We weren’t sure what would happen after Sept. 11, but it had zero effect on our company,” he said. “It just continued to grow.”
Although the junior business is in relatively good shape, executives still are taking steps to stimulate business. Some are focusing more on the basics, while others are launching aggressive marketing campaigns and rolling out creative new designs.
Luckily, the economic situation turned out fine for most companies, but many took steps to prepare for the worst — just in case.
“We’re being more cautious in terms of what we’re offering and the assortment we’re offering,” said Chris Nicola, president of New York-based Todd Oldham Jeans, produced by Jones Apparel Group. The company recently decided to reduce prices on T-shirts, which now retail for $22 and up, instead of $26 to $32.
Todd Oldham Jeans also increased its 2002 advertising. Executives originally planned to put the company’s advertising resources into the fall 2002 season, but decided to do a more targeted print media campaign for spring and summer instead. “We were having some momentum, and we wanted to keep it going,” Nicola said. “Our brand is new and growing, and we wanted to keep that interest out there and let our customers know we are moving forward.”
Overall, Nicola said he is optimistic about the coming fall season. “Some of our bigger accounts are already doing big units for back-to-school,” he said. “They feel it’s getting better in the junior world.”
Jeans also have been taking center stage at Paris Blues because they are always a perennial good seller, Engelman said. For fall 2002, Paris Blues will bring out a wider variety of styles, including raw corduroy stretch pants. More denim will be on tap as well, with creative treatments, such as sandblasting, whiskers and stretch fabrics.
In another move, Los Angeles-based XOXO took steps to tone down its advertising campaign post-Sept. 11, said vice president Aaron Smith. “We focused a little more on the image,” he said. “The makeup was more muted, not flashy.” The company recently went through a rough period after it lost some of its small boutique business, but Smith said the company is bouncing back now. “We definitely did feel the hurt from Sept. 11,” he said. “But I think we’re going to be fine — our numbers are back up again.”
Any company that is in the denim business for juniors should be able to weather the bad economy, said Ivette Vazquez, vice president of New York-based Gasoline Jeans, a division of Jordache Enterprises.
“The denim market is hot right now,” she said. “We’re not getting a lot of panic mode or major cancellations,” she says. “There is a lot of newness going on in denim as a fabrication, and it’s attracting interest from the buyers, and, ultimately, from the consumer.”
For fall, Gasoline expects strong sales for its unique adjustable low-rise jeans. The design has a drawstring in front that will allow customers to create a higher or lower waistline. Gasoline also will experiment with denim in different tints, from dark washes and bleached looks to green and gold tones. “We’re just trying to put as much fashion out there as we can,” Vazquez said.
Meanwhile, lower-priced lines appear to be more insulated from the recent economic downturn. Los Angeles-based One Clothing, for example, offers jeans, shirts and dresses that retail for under $40. Vice president Laura Willson said affordability prevented her company’s junior division from taking a hit last fall. “We haven’t really felt the crunch,” she said. “Our juniors business is still going strong.” In fact, junior sales are up 40 percent over last year, she said. And last year was the first year One Clothing started doing business with major department stores, such as The Bon Ton.
Fang also has a reasonably priced junior line, with funky T-shirts that retail for less than $25. At those prices, retailers did not feel compelled to cut down on orders. Brown said business is booming: First-quarter sales for 2002 have quadrupled over last year. Instead of cutting prices or making leadership changes, Brown said Fang, which has both wholesale and retail operations, has a simple strategy for success: “To survive today, you’ve got to be hip and you’ve got to have newness because that’s what junior customers are looking for,” he said. “It’s all about the product.”
In the young contemporary market, New York-based companies like Ariella, which offers a line of special-occasion and evening gowns, along with more casual separates, appear to be hit hardest by the changing economy. “It’s been a very tough five months,” said owner Ora Weganeh. “We’re trying to produce less merchandise and be very cautious.” Weganeh said orders for prom dresses are coming in much later this year. “If people need something, they will go buy a top for $10 or $20, but if they need to spend more than that, they are being more cautious,” she said. “Even if they have the money, they don’t want to spend it.”
Still, she’s hopeful New Yorkers will be in more of a shopping mood once the weather improves. “Eventually, it has to pick up,” she said.
Other young contemporary companies share the more upbeat outlook of their counterparts in the junior market. At New York-based Blue Plate, executives coped with Sept. 11 by kicking their marketing plan into high gear. They got on the phone with buyers and sent them samples and e-mailed images of the spring line, which includes feminine floral skirts and sheer peasant tops. The strategy seems to have worked. “Business picked up in a big way in November and December,” said assistant manager Danny Hemrajani. “We’ve been back-to-back busy.”
Executives took a similar approach at Los Angeles-based Topsy Turvy. Instead of cutting back, they decided to expand their accessories line to include handbags and T-shirts. “We were hardly affected by Sept. 11,” said vice president for production and development Mark Benabou.