Buyers and Designers Practice Agility at Designers & Agents – WWD

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Designers & Agents reeled in a steady stream of attendees in search of discoveries for their shoppers and themselves.

The three-day event, which closed Sept. 18, featured 164 lines at the Starrett-Lehigh Building. A few of the buyers were less concerned about brands and more interested in eye-catching styles. With the Consumer Price Index last month up 8.3 percent over last year, some retailers were cautious about price points.

Standing outside Monoplaza’s display of vibrant featherweight dresses and separates, chief executive officer and designer Ines Cerezo said buyers are still giving a good deal of thought to orders before they are placed. The Madrid-based executive said, “In Europe, everything is changing, but it’s getting better. Here, it feels more like before the pandemic with regular customers coming back. They are buying as they had before.”

Retailers at D&A seemed to know what they wanted because they understand what their customers will buy, Cerezo said. Printed dresses, blouses and caftans were popular.

Another European vendor, Barcelona-based The Tiny Big Sister debuted its inaugural collection of colorful printed tops and knitwear being. The label aims to draw shoppers who buy its children’s line, TinyCottons.

Several buyers from Asia were scouting the show for trends, not necessarily labels. Kyoko Terajima, buyer for the Tokyo-based store Rosebud, was checking out dresses and cotton-silk styles, T-shirts and some accessories. Many businesses are still reopening after an extended shutdown in Asia. “We are just looking for good brands. We do not have any particular ones in mind,” she said.

Senior global buyer Kei Kim of the Seoul-based e-commerce company Wizwid was in search of emerging brands to introduce to the Korean market. Having found a couple that she declined to name, she said dresses, easy-to-wear items and lightweight cardigans are popular. Celebrities and influencers are driving people to make fashion purchases. Given that, her company tries to push new labels that the site is offering through them. Kim Nayoung has the biggest influence on sales, and another major influencer is the stylist Ellis Punk. Sometimes influencers are paid to wear select designs and other times it happens naturally, she said. Fees can range from $10,000 for one post up to $1 million, said Kei Kim, senior buyer in the global department.

Mitchell Coté-Sawyer and Robert Klein were there for Edit38, a one-stop-shop for emerging designers and brands that will provide them with shop-in-shop, coworking office space, an in-house photo studio for e-commerce and content creation, showroom and public relations among other services. The 8,000-square-foot space is expected to open in November. At D&A, Cote-Sawyer was “just browsing to see what’s around for emerging designers and young talent.”

Having found a few interesting brands at the show’s Los Angeles edition, the outing was his first time at the New York one. Edit38 was in the works pre-pandemic and with the trade shows starting to pick up again, the duo were scouring to see what’s out there. “The idea is to put everything under one roof whether they need retail, wholesale, PR, e-commerce, a photo studio. There will be enough people there to help them run these different areas. We can even help them with manufacturing in the city and warehouses in New Jersey,” Klein said.

Buying for her Jackson Hole, Wyoming, boutique Nest, Noa Staryk said shoppers are looking for price points that are accessible — under $300 — and pieces that are fun and good quality. Dresses, sweaters and denim are in demand, and shoes sell well, when it is a “thoughtful, small lineup,” she said. Without any specific brands in mind, Staryk was hoping to find a few new lines, including ones for jewelry.

Another Jackson Hole boutique owner, Arcy Hawks of Habits and her son Cade, were looking for new brands that haven’t been discovered yet, as well as existing ones that she carries, like Dragon Diffusion and Nicholson & Nicholson. Based in a resort town, where many people have second homes, she said, “The demographic there is not that concerned with what is happening with the world. I don’t really see any big changes [in spending].”

Primarily on the lookout for dresses that weren’t ruffled or tiered, Julie Biondi, owner of The Lovely on Nantucket, Massachusetts. named Aish and Monoplaza as favorite resources. “Did I find anything new? It’s very competitive on Nantucket. Everybody has a lock on certain things,” she said.

Even before the pandemic struck, the island was attracting more year-round residents. Her store stays open until the beginning of December and reopens in April. “That’s pretty typical,” she said. “We’ve had a strong few seasons, but I know that we are in the minority. People escaped where they were from and used Nantucket as a respite. I noticed a little bit of caution this summer but we’re still having a great year. But I’m buying a little more carefully in terms of the amount of units.”

Pricing is something that she is always careful of, trying to keep all merchandise under $300 aside from special pieces that retail up to $500. “If it’s too expensive, it becomes too big of a decision. People have lunches to get to and beaches to go to,” Biondi said.

Having heard before attending the show that some stores were concerned about inflation and were tightening budgets, Tracy Reese said she had wondered how business would be at the show but described stores as being “really optimistic. They haven’t really talked about the fear of inflation. But I think that spring is always a time for optimism. I think people have decided, ‘Look, you’re either in business or you’re not.’ Are you going forward? If so, you need product.”

Colorful, feminine styles are also in demand, as well as items that have sold well for them before, such as dainty, printed blouses. Embroidered and other embellished items have generated interest, as well.

Reese is developing an apprenticeship program in Detroit, Michigan, to raise the level of sewing mastery there to be able to make more things there and scale back importing. That will probably take 12 to 18 more months to ensure there is the quality and speed that will allow for competitive pricing with the market, Reese said. “But it takes time with a lot of sewing experience to reach that level.”

Through her M.Patmos store in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn, New York, Marcia Patmos, who also sells wholesale, is very aware of how people are shopping with both consumers and buyers having more of a buy-now mind-set that is dependent on the weather. At D&A, M.Patmos sold nearly all of the immediate merchandise that was available.

Buyers and shoppers at M.Patmos are increasingly interested in happy colors like cobalt blue.

“While they are buying sharper outfits, everything has to be comfortable. Nobody wants to be restricted anymore. If they’re lawyers, they don’t want to wear a suit unless they have to. They want to wear something pulled-together but comfortable,” she said.

While demand for navy and black styles still exists, buyers ordered styles in blush pink, sunshine yellow, kelly green, poppy red, cobalt blue and other “happy color therapy colors,” as well as dark options like deep wine and an olive brown, Patmos said.

To drive traffic in her Brooklyn store, Patmos is doing various weekend pop-ups in front of the boutique and indoors. This weekend an artist-designer will offer vintage men’s shirts and tailor them sculpturally. That event will overlap with a fundraiser for One Love Community Fridge that was started by Asmeret Berhe-Lumax, during the pandemic to fight food insecurity. Having designed her own line for so long, Patmos was accustomed to seeing what buyers would buy or online orders. But having had a freestanding store for nearly four years, she sees exactly what people are going toward on the rack, what looks good on them and what is missing from the collection. “I’ve developed a lot of new styles with all of that in mind,” Patmos said, adding that new styles can be tested in the store to better gauge what will do well wholesale.

In a couple of weeks, M.Patmos will relocate a few blocks down the street to a new space at 358 Atlantic. The area is filled with retailers such as Michele Varian, Outline, Consignment Brooklyn, Primary Essentials, Layla Brooklyn and Rowan Piercing Studio. The Ace Hotel Brooklyn also ups the foot traffic in the neighborhood.

Designer Jeffrey Grubb was pitching in at Mona Thalheimer’s booth, where the Rudi Gernreich label was among the offerings. He also runs The House of Alchemy e-commerce site. Grubb said of his multiple roles: “With the specialty stores, it’s still a tight group. We’re all friends so we really support one another to try find good products all the time. Rudi was Mona’s mentor.”

Separately, Grubb divides his time between New York and Puerto Rico, where he and his artist partner Pepe Villegas are doing pop-up galleries, learning Spanish and doing T-shirt production for House of Alchemy at a uniform factory. The pop-ups offer more affordable items such as T-shirts, bandanas, scarves and puzzles made from Villegas’ art. Grubb spoke enthusiastically about “being part of making positive change in a culture that is otherwise depressed. We’re talking about small-scale [production]. It’s really about celebrating and redefining a whole island’s culture and making it affluent again.”

Milliner Lola Ehrlich described buyers’ mood at the show as “optimistic. People are just insane. They don’t ask for the price — they just order. It’s not like two [hats]. It’s like 10, six or five — big quantities for us, because we make everything by hand. We’re not used to volume in one style.”

Stores are acting as though the pandemic is over and interest has returned to as it was before, said Ehrlich, whose company was started in 1989 and has had different incarnations. As for consumers’ confidence despite discussion of a looming recession, she said, “I think people are just so bored. They need movement and entertainment and fashion is the easiest way to diversify your life on yourself.”

While her hats “are not cheap,” retailing from $300 to $400, the designer considers that “to be a lot of money for hats that will be blown into the ocean,” Ehrlich said. “But at the same time, some people think it’s worth it and I think it’s worth it, because we do it by hand.”

Bags were also in demand despite retailing for $500 and higher. “People don’t seem to object for a straw beach bag that will be ruined after one season. I don’t understand,” the designer said. “I’m always so nervous when we price our merchandise. I always write such a small margin because there is a sweet point [for the pricing]. We went beyond that and people didn’t seem to object to. That’s a good sign especially with an economy that is supposedly on the rocks.”

Another sportswear designer, Amy Chan, was at the show consulting for the organic fragrance and skin care company Voyage et Cie, which she has worked with for the past five years. With the economy opening back up, Chan is scouting domestic manufacturing possibilities for her utilitarian smart designs. “I just feel there are many things that we use everyday that inspire. Sometimes it’s something that we work with or how we use it. It’s a pleasure [to use] and, for me, it’s actually a pleasure to make it and to be working in a more responsible way.”

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