Like their more traditional counterparts, vendors set to show at Ecollections — the MAGIC segment devoted to eco-minded brands — have had to deal with less-than-optimal business conditions in the last year or two. But many are bringing a sense of optimism to the trade show this year as drastic inventory controls begin to ease, orders pick up and more consumers think green.
At Chicago-based Mata Traders Ltd., co-owner Michelle King said she’s seen an increased interest in the company’s fair trade-produced apparel in the past two years.
“Last year, one of our biggest customers closed, and we were thinking this year was going to be even worse…but at the trade shows, our performance has been really [good],” King said. “Right now, green is so big.”
The company, which produces its line through co-ops in India, has seen growth throughout the recession and expects sales to continue to climb this year, King said.
“The way that we manufacture is all done on a smaller scale, so the upside is that we’re not so huge that we can’t cover our expenses,” King said. “It’s still scalable, but your bread and butter is little stores in the U.S. that replace orders all the time. We weren’t already overextended. I feel like when [the downturn] happened, a lot of people were overextended.”
The company’s dresses, skirts and tops wholesale between $17 and $32 while its accessories range from $2.50 to $12.
Newcomer Lonesome George & Co. will bring its conservationist-minded men’s and women’s apparel to Ecollections for the first time this year. Owner Eduardo Balarezo named the firm after what is believed to be the last Galapagos Pinta tortoise in existence.
Until now, Balarezo sold the line mostly to visitors to the Ecuadorian nature preserve that George calls home, as well as in some surrounding areas.
“We decided to create this commercial arm to fund the projects….We wanted to really focus on tapping into the flow of the eco-tourists,” he said. “Those people are out there and they have big checks, and they don’t mind spending money in ways that impact the community.”
Balarezo said he was encouraged to bring Lonesome George & Co. to Ecollections after positive feedback from potential partners in Europe and Japan. The company will showcase its first organic cotton line as well as other George-branded basics. T-shirts wholesale from $13 to $28 and simple dresses range from $48 to $50. Balarezo said the firm hadn’t experienced much of a downturn during the economic crisis, adding that 18 percent of its bottom line went to conservation efforts and related causes last year.
Elizabeth Searle, designer for exhibitor Earth Co. b. organic, said she’s mainly seen interest pick up for its organic cotton basics and sales improve on a consistent basis, though she did say the recession had changed some retailers’ stocking habits.
“I do notice that some people are waiting ’til the last minute [to reorder],” she said. “I think those small boutiques are trying to get rid of everything before they reorder.” Earth Co. b. organic expects to meet its sales targets for the year, Searle said. The company’s tops and pants, made from organic cotton grown on locally owned African farms, wholesale between $7 and $18. Searle said that despite the pickup in green interest, style still comes first.
“It has to be fashion forward,” the designer said. “If it’s organic on top of that, it’s a plus.”
Walleska Ecochicc owner Walleska Tepping agreed on the fashion front. Tepping is returning to Ecollections this year with her line of apparel and accessories made of repurposed aluminum beverage cans and recycled glass. Her pieces wholesale between $25 and $255, and she said her retail customers often buy larger bags and kimonos as a way to attract consumers to their storefronts.
“They buy the bigger pieces as a way to make a statement, as a way to draw the customer in,” Tepping said.
The recession has affected sales, she pointed out, but she’s added new accounts recently and is optimistic for the year ahead: “As far as my reorders, I’d love them to be doubled — but they’re still there, so I’m blessed.”