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WWD Project Preview issue 08/11/2010

As retailers and consumers navigate the uneven recovery following the Great Recession, exhibitors at Project hope to entice buyers with new lines, the right ratio of value to design and ways to deepen their business relationships.

This story first appeared in the August 11, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Survival in the challenging economy, which has been exacerbated by high unemployment, rising costs, pressure to lower prices and the difficulty of obtaining credit from banks and factors, requires strategies for retailers and vendors to stand out. Combining design, value and price is key for companies that are exhibiting men’s and women’s contemporary sportswear, denim and accessories at Project.

“Cheap chic is good,” said Hayati Banastey, founder and president of Turkish label Shirt by Shirt. “Hitting the right trend is just not enough right now. You have to offer retailers that product that can move off the shelves and deliver it along with a great value for them.”

The economy remains a question mark, but vendors are working to make the best of the unpredictable retail climate.

“There is a lot of economic data swinging from positive to negative, but our main indicator is sell-through, performance of the brand and our market share,” said Pan Philippou, chief executive officer of Ben Sherman.

Key items at his company are woven shirts, chinos and lightweight outerwear, said Philippou.

“We are concentrating on emphasizing what we are known for — shirts — and ensuring that this category is pushed,” he said. “And we are becoming more focused on ensuring our partners get the best possible support to drive sell-through.”

At Cockpit USA, the New York-based company is encouraging retailers to take product closer to season.

“Nobody wants to buy a wool coat in July,” said Jacky Clyman, owner and executive vice president at Cockpit.

She noted that in her own Cockpit USA store in New York, which also stocks thirdparty brands, fall goods aren’t put out until mid-September. She added that smaller specialty stores were trending toward later deliveries but larger department stores still wanted goods early.

“There’s still a battle with the majors about timing of deliveries,” she said.

For Sam Ku, design director at premium denim brand AG Adriano Goldschmied in South Gate, Calif., it’s not enough to design and release products into stores. With a growing number of buyers opting to take notes at trade shows and waiting to track trends until hours before the deadline to submit their orders, it behooves designers and vendors to deepen the bonds with their customers.

“It’s always good to get some sales feedback,” said Ku, noting that AG Adriano Goldschmied has seen sales increase 40 percent from a year ago. “It’d be good to know what the customer is interested in….If we have some successes we can build on, that’d be good, as well.”

Stuart Millar, executive vice president of sales for North America at Dutch denim brand G-Star Raw, agreed that Project is an important venue for meeting his retail customers.

“The show is not purely about the value of the order book but more about another opportunity to take time out of customers’ busy diaries to further the relationship,” Millar said.

In addition to meeting with retailers, Millar said G-Star expects to see entrepreneurs at Project who would want to participate in its retail franchise.

“We expect to have the chance to explain the concept to new potential partners, with a view to starting new relationships and opening more mono brand stores in North America,” he said.

G-Star, like other companies, is also looking to keep buyers interested by offering new lines. Raw Sustainable is a new eco-friendly line that G-Star is launching for spring with 32 pieces, including hand-wrinkled chambray pants paired with white suspenders, faded jeans stitched from panels of recycled denim scraps and dark denim work jackets woven from a blend of organic cotton and nettle plant fibers, all retailing from $55 to $370.

Keira Guez, who previously handled sales at Blue Holdings, the Southern California denim manufacturer that owns brands Antik Denim, Taverniti So and Yanuk, is partnering with Grai founder Maya Yogev on a new label called MK Totem, featuring tote bags retailing from $350 to $500.

AG Adriano Goldschmied’s Sam Ku said the brand’s vintage-inspired AG-ed group will introduce a capsule collection called AG-ed Reserve at Project. With retail prices starting at $495, AG-ed Reserve is distinguishing itself from other denim offerings with extreme distressing, 3-D effects, patchwork, embroidery, sanding, blasting and a 10-karat gold button. The company is limiting the production of the nine styles of jeans and jackets to fewer than 250.

“It’s the cream of the crop when it comes to our vintage finishes,” Ku said.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Kill City is pushing a more progressive aesthetic by experimenting with shape and proportion, such as draping denim and inserting engineered panels into its jeans. Although he has yet to achieve his goal of writing $1 million in orders at Project, Kill City ceo Drew Bernstein is gaining an audience for the five-year-old label by blending edgy design with recession-friendly retail prices that run between $70 and $160.

“Little by little, we’re finding our way and growing,” Bernstein said. “We have a nice buzz for the brand.”

Katie Liu, co-owner of the Black Dog 8 showroom, which sells such brands as Christopher Fischer, J.W. Brine, Grenson and Orciani, said, “Buyers are still being very cautious with their budgets, but I think in general people are optimistic for spring. People are tired of being in panic and nervous mode.”

Liu feels retailers are buying more by category than by full collections.

“They still want their core collections, but now they are looking for different brands for the best pants or shirts or T-shirts,” she said. “They are looking for category specialists. It brings more interesting brands into the stores.”

Chinos are a key trend for spring, added Liu, as they are a fresh alternative to denim.

“We are going to double our own J.W. Brine chinos business this spring, compared with last year,” she said.

Bishop of Seventh is one premium denim brand in Los Angeles that hopes to part the sea of blue with khaki twill. Bishop is the new line of cotton bottoms the firm is introducing for spring. Retailing on average for $120, the 15 styles range from pastel-pink straights leg and chocolate-brown walking shorts to khaki cargo pants designed with a pocket covering the front left thigh and snaps above the ankle. The three fabrics are a mechanical twill that has a heavier weight but is still stretchy, a finer twill and a worn-in cotton twill. Making its first showing at Project in two years, Bishop of Seventh hopes to build on the buzz and activity that surrounds the show.

“It’s great when people are showcasing together,” said Chachi Prasad, ceo and creative director of Bishop of Seventh. “It’s good to go where the traffic is.”

Kasil, a premium denim brand based in Los Angeles, is trying to break away from the denim pack with a new sportswear line designed in collaboration with Taylor Jacobson, the stylist who gained notoriety as celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe’s fired assistant on the fashion reality TV show The Rachel Zoe Project. Retailing for less than $118, the sportswear line includes cropped peg-leg trousers, chambray shirts and high-waisted trousers with tapered legs.

David Lim, founder of Kasil, said, “When you go into your closet [in the spring and summer], the first thing you pick won’t be denim. You want something that will keep you cool throughout the day.”

At Ted Baker it’s the basics of fashion retailing that are the focus for spring. Polos with special collar treatments such as contrasting fabrics are trending well in the men’s assortments, while the maxidress in digital prints and vintage florals is a key item in women’s.

“Our specialty stores are telling us that their customer is looking for innovation coupled with good quality and accessible pricing,” said Ricky Green, wholesale director at the British label.

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