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10 Years On, Credit Crunch Still Casting Shadow Over US Fashion

Memories are long and recovery is slow in the North American retail sector, with many exhibitors at New York's MODA clothing expo claiming the damage done to the fashion industry back in 2008 has yet to be anything like fully repaired.

Photo: MODA 2018: New York’s showcase of all the best contemporary, ready-to-wear collections.
MODA 2018: New York's showcase of all the best contemporary, ready-to-wear collections.
Photo: MODA 2018: New York’s showcase of all the best contemporary, ready-to-wear collections.
MODA 2018: New York's showcase of all the best contemporary, ready-to-wear collections.

Ruffles and 'cold shoulder' tops remained hot items despite the freezing conditions beyond the walls of New York's MODA fashion expo. Floral prints and stripes were also well-represented, while bright colours abounded among the spring and summer collections on show from most of the event's exhibitors. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a US fashion show, denim and metallics were also somewhat ubiquitous.

Despite the sunny hues on show, the overall sentiment at the event was a little less warm, with many exhibitors having, at best, a guarded optimism about the current state of the US clothing market. Indeed, more than one company claimed to still be able to discern the downbeat legacy of the credit crunch, despite its 10th anniversary having recently passed.

Of those exhibitors sporting the ruffles and 'cold shoulder' motifs, few were more prominent than South Carolina's Southern Frock. Expressing her surprise at the longevity of both styles, Erin Holtvedt, a Sales Consultant with the company, said: "I am shocked that they are still selling so well, particularly the ruffles, which you now find on dresses and on tops. I suppose, if it works, it works.

"We are also still ordering cold shoulder too. While it sometimes seems as if the industry has got over it, it then turns out to still be relevant."

Despite a core business that focuses on classic nautical resort wear, Connecticut's Sailor-Sailor was another exhibitor making the most of the lingering affection for ruffles and cold shoulder. Acknowledging the durability of both styles, company Co-founder Kim Haney said: "The whole off-the-shoulder trend is really, really popular and remains a huge trend for us. Ruffles are still really big, too."

Also noting the enduring appeal of ruffles, Jennifer Palmese, an Account Executive for Karen Kane, a New York-based designer clothing brand, said: "Right now, you are seeing lots of ruffles and lots of very feminine details. For our part, we're also seeing frayed, distressed denim doing well. Florals are also pretty strong, as is paisley."

Southern Frock was another exhibitor capitalising on the perennial appeal of florals, with Holtvedt saying: "The best booking print for us is the blue flower fabric, very vibrant – that cobalt colour is really pretty big."

Among the other 'pretty big' colours at the show were the bright hues featured in many debuting spring / summer collections. Summarising her own company's palette, Girish Tewani, a Sales Associate with Kaktus, a New York womenswear brand, said: "For spring, the lighter colours are doing well – the blues and the oranges especially. For fall, we did a lot of neutral colours, largely off-whites, blacks and greys."

Taking a similarly bright approach to summer was I.N.S.I.G.H.T., a fellow New York womenswear brand. Tipping metallic to also remain very much in the mix, Sales Representative Stephanie Segal said: "We are seeing a lot of stripes and bright colours are also doing well. On top of that, we have a silver jacket that is doing tremendous business."

Photo: Sailor-Sailor: Nautical, but nice.
Sailor-Sailor: Nautical, but nice.
Photo: Sailor-Sailor: Nautical, but nice.
Sailor-Sailor: Nautical, but nice.
Photo: Lightweight looks from Aria.
Lightweight looks from Aria.
Photo: Lightweight looks from Aria.
Lightweight looks from Aria.

Sailor-Sailor's Haney also saw increased traction for stripes and bright colours, saying: "It is slightly trendy, but we're also classical, as we're in the nautical world. We do a lot of classic stripes and they will never go out. Hot pink, though, is the trend for us right now, but those classical stripes are still in there."

Championing lightweight items rather than lighter colours, Jane Hedley, a Manufacturing Representative with Clothing for the Contemporary Woman, a New Hampshire-based womenswear line, said: "Our little sun dress is doing really well, as well as our layering pieces that you can put together without them being too bulky or heavy-looking. And tunics, lots and lots of tunics."

Los Angeles' Aria Collection was also seeing lightweight garments fly off its shelves. In terms of talking more specific items, Chief Executive Wayne Qian said: "Our mixed-media jacket has been catching lots of attention. Something of an artistic-looking piece, it looks like a jacket, but it is surprisingly light."

Regardless of style, it still ultimately comes down to finding the right combination of cut and colour for each buyer, according to Southern Frock's Holtvedt. Emphasising the importance of meeting individual preferences, she said: "One of the fun things about our latest collection is that every print is available in every style and size. People love that.

"We have some buyers who say: 'I want this McQueen dress and I want it in this print and that print and that print.' And then we have others who say they just want solids because they just do basics. Then there will be those who want a mixture."

While Holtvedt emphasised the importance of collection flexibility to trade buyers, Sailor-Sailor's Haney maintained that flexibility in terms of individual pieces was just as important to consumers, saying: "That whole sporting look, where you have a zipper-front with pockets that you can wear on the tennis court or the golf course, then also wear to brunch, that's a big trend for us."

While some exhibitors saw cut and colour as key, others saw fabric as at least as important when it came to sales. Championing this particular approach, Kaktus' Tewani said: "Our crepon dresses are doing phenomenally well, as is our poplin collection."

Despite that reassuring news on the poplin front, the overall sentiment at the event was, at best, mixed. While some reported strong growth, just as many warned that the 2008 financial crisis was still casting a shadow over the sector. Striking a sort of happy-ish median, Hedley said: "While things clearly have picked up over the past 10 years, it is still a slow recovery in the retail sector.

"I only sell to boutiques and have no dealing with catalogues or department stores. As a result, I can say that it was the little 'mom and pop shops' that really took a big hit during the financial crisis. In fact, it is only now that they are starting to come back."

For Tewani, the difficult trading conditions were more down to overcrowding on the supply side than anything else. Expanding on this, she said: "Business is getting tougher and tougher every year and there are a variety of reasons for that. One of the main factors, though, is the level of competition. There are a lot of companies doing great work, so it's hard for stores to decide where they are going to source from."

Not everyone at the event, however, was quite so downbeat. One of the more positive views came courtesy of Aria's Qian – "In general, we have been doing good business. Last year, in fact, we were up by almost 25%. So far so good. We just hope it continues."

Photo: MODA: Mixed sentiments on show from North America’s apparel sector.
MODA: Mixed sentiments on show from North America's apparel sector.
Photo: MODA: Mixed sentiments on show from North America’s apparel sector.
MODA: Mixed sentiments on show from North America's apparel sector.

MODA 2018 took place from 9-11 January at New York's Jacob K Javits Convention Center.

James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, New York

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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