Vendors left uncomfortable by slow sales of Comfortable Clothing

While consumers were clearly putting comfort wear at a premium at the Dallas-held Apparel & Accessories Market, many exhibitors were left distinctly ill-at-ease by the unwillingness to spend demonstrated by the majority of attendees

Despite the relatively mild winter weather prevalent across the American south, it seems many consumers like warmer items to snuggle-up in over the darker months. As with a number of other exhibitors at the recent Dallas-hosted Apparel & Accessories Market, Los Angeles-based Kori America was still showing immediates for the fall / winter season, as well as previewing its spring / summer 2019 collection.

Noting that many customers seemed to be gravitating towards comfort clothing, Sales Associate Amber Nicole Vining said: “A lot of our waffle knits have been extremely popular, especially our brushed-out waffle knits. Popcorn sweaters – the pullovers as well as the cardigans – are also doing really well. Those are two trends that pretty much everyone knew were going to be in – ditto stripes.

“For us, big-necked knit sweaters have also been huge sellers, largely because they’re just so versatile. You can wear them off-the-shoulder, on one side, on both sides or even up on both shoulders. That kind of versatility works because it appeals to such a great age-range of customers. Plus, you can dress it up and wear it to work or make it a little skimpier and take it out to dinner with the girls.”

Another to note the popularity of comfortable winter favourites, including waffle tops, was Caitlyn Zander, a Sales Representative for Fiore, the Los Angeles-based women’s casualwear brand. Citing her experience of the current preferences, she said: “We have a lot of fall stuff right now – a bunch of fuzzy sweaters to keep you warm, a lot of rompers, cute things that you can throw on and just go out the door.

“The waffle material, in particular, is big for tops right now, while velvet is on trend, and tube tops are always on trend – you can, after all, just put them on under a blazer. We actually have velvet tube tops that are doing well right now, as are teddy coats and flared pants”.

Yet more testimony to the ubiquity of the comfort dressing craze came courtesy of Sabina Pjetrovic, part of the sales team for Be Stage, a Los Angeles-based label specialising in US-made fashions for the larger ladies. Maintaining that it was a trend now manifest across a wide range of items, she said: “Everybody is after hoodies in very comfortable material and everyone still loves floral. Then we have lots of striped shirts and these have done really well, especially those with little added details, like pockets and sparkles – anything like that people tend to gravitate towards.

“Animal prints are really big as well, so I would say those, florals and big, baggy comfort are the key trends – and everybody tends to ask for plus sizes as well, so a lot of stuff is now in the plus sizes as well as regular.”

All of which is good news for fellow LA fashion brand Spin USA, a specialist in plus-sized fashions. Acknowledging this, Sales Manager Rhiannon Traylor said: “For us, in the plus sizes, our relaxed oversized sweaters are doing well, as our velvet animal prints and leggings.”

With the expo clearly dominated by young contemporary specialists visiting Texas from the US west coast, regional variations in consumer tastes were a common topic of conversation. Indeed, many brands were sensitive to the importance of adapting their offerings to local tastes.

Noting the marked differences between Texas and California, Fiore’s Zander said: “Camo sells very well here in the south, as do florals and some of the brighter colours. In LA and New York – and even in Vegas – they like the more professional looking, subdued styles. When they do go out of the box, though, it really has to be something super flashy.”

The regional differences in size and fit were also seen as factors to bear in mind, with Sam Um, a Sales manager with Entro, an LA-based wholesaler of contemporary women’s clothing, saying: “The biggest difference is probably sizing. Southern people really love flowy, comfortable styles, whereas New York customers like more fitted, more business-like stuff; things that are not as colourful, nor as bright.”

Weather, too, plays a big factor in southern US customers’ thinking, with adaptability always at more of a premium. Expanding upon this, Be Stage’s Pjetrovic said: “In Texas, you can’t wear something too hot or too cold, as you never quite know what the winter weather is going to be like. As a result, we sell a lot of lighter fabric items with long sleeves, items that can be worn in the winter in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas…”

While views on regional variations differed and many had conflicting opinions on coming trends, there was a degree of consensus with regard to at least one issue – with the majority of exhibitors reporting that sales were sluggish at best. Indeed, the event was seen by many as a particularly low watermark for the sector, a situation exacerbated by the fact that its scheduling makes it rather too late for autumn/winter styles and rather too early for spring/summer collections.

One of the few dissenting voices here was Um. Sounding resolutely upbeat, she stressed that Entro was one of the few brands doing relatively well out of it, saying: “In fact, we have welcomed a reassuringly larger number of customers.

“We went to Atlanta last week and that was very slow. Maybe it’s just a slack period for boutique owners, who are our main clients. I have every hope, though, that it will pick up next year.”

Pjetrovic, though, was rather more negative about the state of the sector, saying: “This is one of the slowest shows ever held here. Even Umgee and Entro – the bigger brands – are not immune to it. I was in an elevator this morning with a woman who had worked this market for 14 years and she said this is the slowest she has ever seen it. Maybe it’s just losing out to the convenience of online ordering.”

Less impressed still was Sarah Kang, Vice-president of Sales for She & Sky, one of LA’s more prominent fashion brands. Clearly unhappy with her experience at the 2018 event, she said: “Honestly, I can’t tell you what’s selling well now because this show is so slow. We have been coming here for more than 10 years and, overall, all the October shows tend to be pretty slow, but this one is even slower than Atlanta or Chicago.”

The 2018 Apparel & Accessories Market took place from October 24-27, 2018 at the Market Center, Texas.