Who wants to be contemporary? These days, practically everybody. And contemporary wants to be everything to everyone. In order to do that, the category is reinventing itself — from design to demographics to distribution.
Today’s contemporary fashion is influenced more by a West Coast lifestyle than the European runways. “There’s been a shift toward a young, pretty, sexy, contemporary vibe coming out of L.A.,” said Renee Roman, market specialist for contemporary sportswear at The Doneger Group, a New York-based apparel marketing research firm. “The cool, funky, casual labels coming from L.A. are influencing other markets,” Roman said. “Consumers from missy to younger juniors’ are looking to that contemporary area because it has so much appeal.”
And increasing numbers of retailers are looking to capitalize on the category’s popularity. Since August 2004, WWDMAGIC has seen a 21 percent jump in retailers indicating they are shopping for contemporary merchandise at the show, according to Laura McConnell, vice president and general manager of MAGIC International.
“The contemporary market at the MAGIC Marketplace is growing in importance and recognition among retailers,” McConnell said. “As they continue to seek new resources in contemporary each show, WWDMAGIC has taken steps to strengthen the category and edit the collections to provide buyers with directional, trend-driven resources.”
At this week’s show, 58 percent of contemporary exhibitors are new to WWDMAGIC, said McConnell, and more than 360 contemporary resources are available throughout the MAGIC Marketplace, in WWDMAGIC’s contemporary category and in•dex as well as Contemporary Street and the new Premium area at MAGIC.
Defined as a “lifestyle” and an “attitude,” contemporary also is striving to be ageless. “We’re seeing Teri Hatcher, in her 40s, wearing this style so well,” said Roman. “I don’t think there is a huge division between shoppers, whether they are 15 or 50. There’s a middle ground where everyone can get in on the same look.”
While that middle ground is getting broader and broader, the bottom line is getting bigger and bigger, with manufacturers reporting sales increases of 20 percent to 200 percent.
“We’re trying to reach the 20-year-olds with a younger, sexier look, but keeping more conservative looks that our loyal customers enjoy,” said Daniella Zeltzer, public relations manager at Los Angeles-based XCVI Wearables, adding that the company is almost doubling orders every month for its casual streetwear line, wholesaling from $50 for tops to $90 for bottoms.
Westcoast Contempo, the Burnaby, British Columbia-based parent company of misses’ line mac & jac, added two new brands six years ago: Kenzie, targeted at the 20-plus consumer, and Kenzie Girl, for the 15- to 20-year-old set. The two lines have pushed overall sales up approximately 25 percent in the last two years, and now account for 65 percent of the company’s production, said Lani Karls, vice president of design.
“That age group has a lot of disposable income, they like to shop and they’re looking for fresh merchandise constantly,” said Karls. At the same time, the company has redesigned its mac & jac collection for an “updated missy” look and maintained its competitive price range of $25 to $80 wholesale.
“We’re always creating new divisions and brands with different designers and price points,” said Jennifer Cohen, national sales manager for Los Angeles-based Cover Designs, which currently has five divisions and is launching two more. Wholesale prices for the lines range from $80 to $300. With a typical client base of 16- to 40-year-olds, the company has branched out with its Johnny Was Collection, and developed an “older” 50-and-up customer for its feminine, easy-fit dresses, coats and jackets. And, since launching the JW Los Angeles line, with its focus on “fun, funky and hip,” in January, Cohen said the company has almost tripled sales, with average market totals ranging from $500,000 to $800,000.
Through broader product assortments and price points that range from $12 to $300, companies are reaching not only a new consumer demographic, but also different channels of distribution.
Sanctuary Clothing Inc., a North Hollywood, Calif., manufacturer, is adding jeans, jackets and knits to its chino and utility styles and, as a result, expects sales to increase by 20 percent this year to $20 million. Wholesale prices range from $49 to $99. Sanctuary will introduce a new Synergy logo at WWDMAGIC to extend its branding of the new lines.
Love Amour is a Los Angeles-based manufacturer of novelty tops and blouses that wholesale for $29 to $69. By adding new channels such as golf, resort and beach specialty shops and cruise ships to its distribution network, the 9-year-old company has increased sales by 30 percent over the last three years.
San Francisco City Lights Inc., based in San Francisco, started in the late Eighties as an activewear manufacturer, and later introduced performance fabrics under a City Tech label. At WWDMAGIC, it will further define its product assortment, continuing to develop its City Lights Sportswear brand and adding a new spa-yoga collection. “We want to make our lines clearer, narrower…but more coordinated, to address the needs of three distinct customers,” said Pat Brown, national sales manager.
Although 70 percent of the company’s $20 million volume now comes from specialty stores, it is broadening its distribution through catalogues, the Home Shopping Network and a new private label collection for Chico’s Soma division. “We will focus on developing our specialty store business, but continue to open new accounts,” said Brown, “because that’s what you have to do.”
All of these manufacturers, however, are also keenly aware of the importance of their original retail base.
“I think one of the keys to our success is that we were able to garner the support of small boutiques. [We remain] really loyal to our customers, and continue to give them business, even though we’re expanding to larger stores such as Nordstrom,” said Zeltzer of XCVI Wearables, where 90 percent of accounts are small boutiques.
And, in a market that is increasingly item driven, the company maintains a cumulative line of approximately 60 stockkeeping units, said Zeltzer. This week, based on its success with women’s pant and skirt collections, XCVI is launching its first men’s line, including pants, shorts and shirts. In addition, after successfully expanding its original cargo pant line into gauchos and palazzos in soft pima cotton, stretch corduroy and French terry, it is introducing its first line of basic tops.
Allen Allen, based in Los Angeles, sells its casual weekendwear to both midtier and contemporary customers in spite of a few “identity problems” in the market. “Some missy stores are calling themselves contemporary,” said Kari Carpino, national sales manager at the company, explaining that the term “missy” has taken on an “old, frumpy” connotation. But, with a customer base of 15- to 70-year-olds and a size range that runs up to XL to fit “almost everybody,” the $15 million company maintains a steady growth of 5 to 10 percent annually by keeping the old customers and adding new ones, from specialty shops to sporting goods stores to spas. At WWDMAGIC, it is launching collections of detailed terry cloth and fleece tailored for its growing resort segment.
To accommodate new introductions, many exhibitors have greatly expanded their booth space at WWDMAGIC.
Westcoast Contempo has added 12 booths, for a total of 30, and also is exhibiting all of its mac & jac, Kenzie and Kenzie Girl collections together for the first time. It also will launch a new multimedia ad campaign at the show, focused on both the consumer and trade segments.
Cover Design is taking a 20-by-30-foot space to show all of its brands and launch its sixth division, Love & Liberty, with original designs based on the artwork of tattoo artist Ed Hardy. “It’s the first time we’ve combined all of our divisions in one booth,” said Cohen. “We’re making this into a real showcase.”