Wearables Business

Traveling tabletops offer fashion opportunities

Traveling tabletops offer fashion opportunities – National Specialty Advertising Showcase

Nowell C. Wisch

Susan Griffith, of Edwards Garment, was parading around with part of a pair of khaki shorts wrapped around her slender frame. She was completely encased in only one leg of the shorts, which were bigger than any ever seen in the promotional products business.

Her point was that Edwards had the largest inventory of work-related fashion in the business, both in size and in units on the shelf. This was but one of the many surprises that attendees to the NSA Showcase encountered in January.

The traveling tabletops really mark the beginning of the fashion year. For example, the NSA Showcase, administered by Bob and Barbara Faux, had its first show even before The ASI Show! started setting up in Orlando. They started on January 2nd in Seattle. Seventy suppliers, including almost a dozen wearables people, are selling on the first business day of the New Year. Seeing 100 to 200 distributors a day is commonplace. With the relaxed atmosphere common to this venue, suppliers and distributors can discuss products and programs in depth. They can explore the new items coming on the market and plan solutions for their customers at their leisure. They can also see some very interesting things, especially from creative and innovative suppliers.

Women rule!

Lots of suppliers on the circuit are showing more feminine fashions this year. King Louie, for example, had several women ogling their scoop neck shirts and other career wear looks. Women were well represented in both style and color, and some of the major fashion houses believe that in 2001, the women’s market will start coming of age. One regional sales manager said, “We have had high hopes for years that women’s wear would gain acceptance, and it just has not. This year, however, it seems that we are beginning to get the product, colors and price right, and early indications are that we might see good numbers by June.”

Her opinion seems to be echoed by many at the tabletop show. A distributor in central California said, “I’ve seen some very exciting styles at this show that I plan to take to two of my larger corporate clients.” Her largest client, a Fortune 500 insurance company, conducts several meetings a year for customer service people who are overwhelmingly women.

“The range of styles we have seen are finally including some things that women like to wear and that we can sell,” she continued. “This could make us all very happy!”

Inner Harbor/Jonathan Corey

Rock Neeley joined the traveling show circuit on his way to the Imprinted Sportswear Show in Long Beach, Calif. Rock is very excited about the new manufacturing and warehousing arrangement that puts Inner Harbor in his warehouse. Whispering Pines Apparel Manufacturing is now making and shipping the Inner Harbor line as well as the respected Jonathan Corey label. Rock, who has helped establish the Jonathan Corey line as a major player in the corporate casual market, said that there is a lot of depth in Inner Harbor as well.

The trend toward a more formal “casual” look is favorable for lines such as Jonathan Corey and Inner Harbor. “We are seeing the corporate casual market move back to a more formal look,” he says. “The pendulum moved from corporate formal to corporate casual to corporate sloppy. In a short period, business moved from suits to polos to T-shirts. Corporate clients as well as the dot-corn companies are now moving back toward a more structured look. We are accommodating the trend with new designs and fabrics, such as woven long-sleeve shirts.”

The look was so well-received that a Southern California distributor plans on moving a complete corporate store from twills to these new offerings. She said, “We have taken the twill long sleeve as far as it is possible to go. Our client is just poloed and twilled out. We have been doing nothing for two years other than variations on a theme. These new shirts are a wonderful change of pace.” She was also impressed by the new Ottoman rib microfiber blend polo shirt that Neeley has been showing. “We think that this shirt will hold up very well to washing and embroidery. Our client is looking for something new and this may fit the bill,” she said.

Grant Custom Headwear

Steve Angeline, ASI Sales Manager for Fairfax, Va. supplier Grant Custom Headwear, was relentless during the first two weeks of the year. Each day, as distributors passed through the NSA Showcase, he stopped them with a cheery, “We make custom caps. Would you like a free sample?” Distributors stopped and listened.

Angeline continued, “Our minimum order is 500 pieces of the same cap. We offer a free pre-production sample, which is very important when you are selling a completely custom product. Plus, since we are a complete import supplier, our caps are priced with all duties, quotas and brokerage charges included.”

One distributor from Vancouver, Wash. who closely examined Grant Custom’s products said, “There are lots of reasons to try this company. The catalog is on a ‘P’ so it’s easy to compute nets and costs. They also have a great selling tool in their ‘catalog cap’. Also, with prices from under $5, they are a great

value.” This was a common theme among distributors who stopped by the Grant table.

The “catalog cap” shows the most popular types of embroidery and decoration, from standard to “puff.” It has several interesting embellishments, including an example of Grant’s free buckle embossing. Angeline has sewn labels indicating the quantities.

Quicksilver Golf

Several years ago, an aspiring young fashion designer, John Ashworth, started producing corporate-friendly golf wear under his name label. Since then, the Ashworth line has achieved preeminence among all the retail golf labels that include Cutter and Buck, IZOD, Nike and Polo. Ashworth sold his interest in the company and sat on the sidelines until late last year, when he hooked up with Quicksilver clothing, a staple of the skateboard and surf crowd.

John Ashworth’s new line, which wasn’t named by early January, was scheduled to debut at the PGA Merchandise Show in Florida in late January. It is aimed at the 25 to 40 age group, younger golfers with more trendy fashion tastes. Sales representatives believe that the new line will find fast acceptance in younger companies, primarily in the Internet service and high tech market. Many who have seen the new fashions feel that there is a strong chance of success for the new line. One distributor said, “Since the green grass golf market has been stagnant to flat, most of the sales movement will come from stealing market share from another company. One positive benefit to this is that some old line golf fashion houses will have more inventory available for the promotional products side because retail demand will soften.”

Go to the show

These and many other reasons may make this one of the best years for tabletop shows in recent history. With the economy slowing and companies becoming more cost conscious, new products and better values will be the “in demand” items.

Plus, just being in the atmosphere of a show setting will energize you and get you out of the door with more enthusiasm and excitement.

Nowell Wisch, Editor at Large for Wearables Business, offers his insights on wearables monthly in these pages.

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