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"We have to offer a balance," said Jamison. "We're in a reality check, with consumers buying less and retailers being careful."
The b-t-s season represents up to 40 percent of business for Z Co., a three-year-old brand, but the season is not clearly defined, said Charles Jedara, president.
"There are so many variables, with schools starting at different times around the country, regional weather and dress codes," he said. "Back-to-school is no longer a strict season."
For fall, 80 percent of the Z Co. line is denim, in a range of dark, clean looks to bleached denim with rips and tears. The line also includes shorts, and alternative fabrics such as madras plaids and stretch twills.
Two junior lines, Bongo and Southpole, are introducing individualized fits this fall.
Bongo's Fab 5 Fits will launch in July. Five designated fits, Flirty, Fabulous, Fierce, Fearless and Feisty, range from skinny legs and midrise waists to ultra low-rise waists and wide-flare legs. Hangtags, in-store signage and a microsite devoted to fit are designed to simplify the buying experience and educate consumers.
"Bongo is known for fit, so that's what we want to maximize," said Kimberly Lee Minor, vice president of brand management. "We have to find ways to make the brand stand out."
For the first time this year, Southpole will also designate fits, labeled Freestyle, Salsa, Rock 'N' Roll, Mambo, Tango and Rave, with varying rises and leg openings. Packaging and signage are designed to help consumers identify body types and find the perfect fit.
David Strumeier, senior vice president of marketing, licensing and new business development, said offering "increased perceived value" this b-t-s season was more important than ever.
"With this economy, it's quality and value that drives the sale," he said. "We have to make it easy and clear for the consumer."