CHICAGO — The urbanwear market has hit a speed bump.
Retailers and vendors at the Pulse trade show here said high gas prices, uncertainty after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and an oversupplied market created significant challenges.
“Everyone realizes it’s not great out there,” said Bruce Schedler, managing director for sales and marketing for Merchandise Mart Properties, which organizes the event that ran Sept. 27-29 at the Merchandise Mart here. “But people are optimistic for a good fourth quarter.”
Urbanwear also faces more competition for consumer dollars as teenage shoppers, for example, try to choose between an iPod or a new outfit. “The hip-hop market in general has slowed down a lot,” said James Lee, president of Johnny Handsome and Johnny Girl. “Now, it’s too saturated. Everyone is jumping on.”
Lee said his firm lowered its wholesale prices by about one-third, meaning a pair of jeans would wholesale for $16 rather than $26.
Back-to-school business caused sales to spike temporarily, Lee said, adding that business at Pulse was down about 15 percent from last year. “Whenever it (business) hits bottom it always comes back,” he said. “If we can survive this, we know it’s going to get better.”
For now, Lee is having success with items featuring rhinestones and studs, such as embellished track sets and jeans with pink and silver rhinestone trim, and matching denim jackets with rhinestones around the jacket’s collar and a sparkling logo on the back.
Frank Uible, urban buyer for Glik’s, a 57-store Midwest chain, said he was trying to figure out his junior market.
“That segment has been the most confounding,” he said. “We very definitely have been underestimating the customer.”
Uible said the chain has been “force-feeding the top four or five brands” such as Apple Bottoms, Baby Phat and Girbaud, while its customer has gotten restless looking instead to Forever 21.
“She’s close to abandoning us,” he said of his junior customer. “This woman or girl is still buying into luxury, but she’s finding other resources. She’s trend-savvy and penny-savvy, as well.”
Uible spent about half his time at Pulse scouting misses’ lines, even though that segment accounts for only about 25 percent of his business. “We’re really reassessing how we do business with this customer,” he said. “It’s been challenging.”
Hoping to grab shoppers’ interest, Uible ordered items from some new lines, including velour sets and denim jackets and jeans from Def Jam University, cropped denim jackets with sequins and embellished denim from Sweet Vibes and track sets and denim outfits from G-Unit Juniors.
Despite the difficult circumstances, this edition of Pulse was the second largest in terms of exhibitors, the Merchandise Mart’s Schedler said.
One new line, Luxirie by LRG, was well received, said Matthew Zimbric, West Coast sales rep for Luxirie. But he added that some customers were initially perplexed by the label’s offerings. They were expecting the clothing would go hand-in-hand with LRG and were surprised not to find the standard logo sweatsuit and T-shirt. “It shares the lifestyle, but not the logo,” Zimbric said. “It’s less logo- and more fashion-driven. We did carry over some of the hardware.”
Key pieces from the line include a camouflage crushed-crepe jacket and a hand-sewn beaded French terry jacket, he said.
Some urban staples, however, still work well for certain retailers.
Tendra Toliver, co-owner of Mega Fashion, an urban specialty store set to open this fall in West Allis, Wis., near Milwaukee, said she’s banking that jeans and colorful long-sleeved T-shirts from Girbaud, jeans with matching jackets and T-shirts from Akademiks and figure-flattering knit tops from Passion will be hits.
“They still like color,” Toliver said of her expected clientele, as well as coordinating outfits. “Especially in Milwaukee, we’ve got to match everything. We love to match.”