In the midst of a recession, fledgling clothing labels are persevering to drum up business with West Coast retailers at the contemporary fashion market starting March 20.

This story first appeared in the March 12, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

For example, two brands, Soh and Chulette, will make the trek to Los Angeles from New York for their debut at Focus, a special section to be held in the California Market Center’s penthouse March 21 to 23.

“It is a tough market right now,” said Song Oh, who mastered technical aspects of knitwear at Inc. and Anne Klein before launching a knitwear label called Soh at Designers & Agents’ New York expo in February. Though independent retailers, ranging from Patina in Nantucket, Mass., to La Ree Boutique in Bellevue, Wash., have added his line, it is important to test a variety of trade shows before finding one that best suits a brand, he said.

Oh priced his line, which features men’s and women’s styles, from $65 for bamboo-and-cashmere pullovers to $300 for hand-knit cashmere-and-wool cable cardigans. One women’s cardigan features extra panels in the front, while turtlenecks integrate French seams trailing down the sleeves and sides.

“It’s important to diversify your options,” Oh said, noting Focus will help him get exposure and start a relationship with the Los Angeles market.

Lee Phutrakul, Chulette’s Thai-born designer, who will show spring and fall collections from the year-old line, agreed with Oh’s logic. Having learned from past stints at Libertine and Catherine Malandrino, Phutrakul enhances her flirty style with colorblocking on Bermuda shorts, flowing silks and neutral colors with pops of yellow and turquoise. Wholesaling from $70 to $180, nationally distributed Chulette is sold at Thistle & Clover in Brooklyn, Habit in Chicago and Seaplane in Portland, Ore.

“It’s a good opportunity to be out there and meet some of the buyers,” Phutrakul said.

Chelsea Matthews, CMC’s senior trade show manager, said most lines exhibiting at Focus target boutique buyers because they may not have the ability to satisfy department stores’ requirements. There also is hope of attracting a marquee major like Nordstrom, which placed orders with vendors at Focus in January.

Considering that Transit and independent expos such as Designers & Agents and Brighte also vie for retailers’ attention during the five-day market, Matthews said the decision to curate Focus and limit the number of exhibitors to 50 lets the CMC as well as the exhibitors reach a specific customer.

“It gives a clear message to the buyer,” she said.

Other fashion labels are coping with the difficult economy by lowering prices: Be Seduce, a 15-year-old Australian contemporary label launched in the U.S. last year, reduced wholesale prices by as much as 20 percent to between $68 and $200.

“Buyers are looking for great quality at a really affordable price,” said Veronica Welch, Be Seduce’s international director of sales and marketing. “A lot of the boutiques we’re talking to that previously could sell things for $300, $400 and $500 are telling us their customers don’t want to spend more than $200.”

Fall collections that Be Seduce will present in its CMC showroom include silk tops in a mellow palette of plum, charcoal and off-white. Also key is a dress in an animal print evoking a hybrid of snakeskin and cheetah spots with studs adorning the neckline, arms and bottom hem.

Other market debuts include a new denim line from Riser Goodwyn, the label designed by Rosetta Getty.

Soyun Shin, a former owner of Los Angeles-based contemporary label Marlova, will show her fall collection, including flip coat cardigans and tuxedo vests, at Em Productions Showroom in the Cooper Design Space. The details arise in the craftsmanship, as seen in signature antique brass and nickel buttons and seams that make the garments reversible.

With wholesale prices of $86 for tanks to $215 for heavyweight cardigans, Shin projects $800,000 to $1 million in first-year sales through retailers like American Rag Japan, Debbie Klein in New York and Kick Pleat in Austin, Tex. “The idea was to avoid too much trend-centered stuff and make beautiful, wearable clothes that will last beyond just this season,” Shin said.