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Men's Retail Remains Challenging, but Opportunities Exist
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August 05, 2011
by Deborah Belgum, Senior Editor

RAINBOW OF COLOR: Lorrie Simsen represents Jams World, whose bright shirts come from Japanese rayon cut and sewn in Hawaii.

Even though men’s apparel sales in the United States inched up 3.3 percent in 2010, specialty-store owners have been on a challenging journey this year.

That was the word at the recent West Coast Trend Show, a menswear show held July 30–Aug. 1 at the Embassy Suites LAX North near Los Angeles International Airport.

“Most businesses are flat,” said Ken Haruta, the show’s organizer and a menswear rep himself. “Some have shown increases, but they are up and down. Nevertheless, the stores seem to be cautiously optimistic.”

Buyers cruising three floors of hotel suites packed with 90 representatives carrying 260 lines were echoing that sentiment. “Things are not good. I think it is the effect of the economy,” said Hooshang Seda, owner of Quest, a 1,000-square-foot casual-menswear store in the heart of Sausalito, Calif. He yearns for the boom-boom times of 2004 and 2005, when his customers had a more carefree attitude about spending. Now his customers seem to be more interested in novelty items and special merchandise.

Even retailers in affluent areas such as Malibu, Calif., haven’t been immune to a lackluster economy. “We are hoping for a better day,” said Gene Ford, owner of Malibu Lifestyles, located in the tony Malibu Country Mart. “People even in affluent areas are less likely to spend when their stocks are upside-down.”

Ford was one of the 199 registered buyers shopping the twice-a-year, three-day show. This year, buyer attendance was up 32 percent over last summer, Haruta said, in part because some retailers are cutting expenses and traveling to more local shows instead of shelling out big money to go to menswear shows in New York and Las Vegas.

Malibu Lifestyles’ Ford was at the show to see the latest collections from the companies from which he already buys. That gives him more time at the various trade shows in Las Vegas to branch out and search for new clothing lines.

With retailers looking for newness and novelty, manufacturers were shuffling their lines to give it to them. New to the show this year was Jams World, a 47-year-old line of men’s casual shirts from Hawaii. Lorrie Simsen, the line’s sales manager, was surrounded by a blast of bright colors hanging from rolling racks that filled the suite where she was set up for business.

She was pleased with buyer activity at the show. “We are pleasantly surprised,” she said, noting she had opened a few new accounts. “Retailers are cautious, but they are looking for and excited to see new things.”


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