Sometimes written off for using heavy fabrics and dowdy designs, Canadian manufacturers are experiencing an image makeover, especially when it comes to satisfying Southern customers. Some vendors successfully adapted their lines to warmer climates and more laid-back lifestyles after they didn’t test well at Atlanta or Dallas markets, while others say they’ve used fabrics, colors and styles that appeal to Southern buyers from the get-go. Following is a look at two companies, Frank Lyman Designs and Kukura, whose lines have successfully translated to a Southern market.

“We never had to alter the line since we have so many Canadian customers who travel South. A big part of our Canadian business is resort and spring,” said Frank Lyman, president of Frank Lyman Design, a contemporary dress and coordinates firm based in Montreal.

Founded in May 2001, the line made its U.S. debut in October at Michael Whaley & Associates in AmericasMart. Lyman attributes opening approximately 45 new accounts there to offering South-friendly looks. Large, embroidered roses and clean, sexy silhouettes like a V-neck tank and knee-length skirt give a feminine allure to a white linen group. An orange floral print, sheer knits in pastels, and black and white stripes and colorblocking also received a positive response from Southern buyers.

With the uncertain economy in mind, buyers responded to reasonable price points as well. Dresses and jumpsuits range from $50 to $99 wholesale, whereas separates are $20 to $30. Lyman believes the economy factors into sales, but not as much as quality and variety.

“The right garments sell even in difficult times. We started shipping goods right away. Knock on wood, everything’s checked out so far,” he said.

For fall 2002, the company will debut its petite division, in addition to carrying misses’ sizes 4 to 16.

Launched in 2000, Kukara, a contemporary sportswear line based in Montreal, also can be found at Whaley. Sales and marketing manager Joanna Barcessat reports experiencing nearly the same conditions and results as Lyman’s, with the exception that Kukara changed its initial approach.

“Last fall, we did a lot of heavy fabrics and boxy, suity looks, which weren’t appropriate for the South. This time, we’ve switched to lighter fabrics, more color and more casual-driven items,” she said.

The majority of the revamped line is made with cotton stretch sateen. Spring bestsellers are a cropped jacket and cropped pants in four solids and a pink and red floral print; and black and white, pinstripe blouses in sleeveless and three-quarter styles.

“It wasn’t really a problem to adjust, since many of our Canadian customers are on the West Coast, especially in Vancouver. They have the same needs and preferences as our Southern clientele,” said Barcessat.

Proof of the correlation came when Kukara also opened approximately 45 accounts at October’s show in Atlanta.

According to Barcessat, ample size range (4 to 16) and good price points ($24 for an underpinning to $82 for a jacket).

Buyers have the added bonus in a coordinating pants program. Established in conjunction with its sportswear line, Kukara’s two-way stretch pants have evolved into a signature item. Slim and wide-leg styles are available in January, with petites in development.

Though she considers the U.S. to be slightly more fashionable than its northern neighbor, Barcessat reports business differences end there. Current conditions such as buyers placing orders closer to season and acting more cautiously mirror those of U.S. manufacturers.

“Atlanta will be a great market for us. There is more business to be had at regional markets than say MAGIC, which tends to be too men’s and junior’s oriented,” she said. Sales for 2001 reached nearly $1 million.