Early fall and back-to-school have been mostly completed after the drawn-out February market, but major stores and smaller specialty operations are holding out on finishing their holiday buys, generally waiting until the May market to address those programs.
The procrastination stems from the sputtering U.S. economy, which grew just 0.6 percent in fourth-quarter gross domestic product, and a credit crisis caused by the subprime mortgage implosion. The delay in holiday ordering also is spurred by concern over consumer spending. The Consumer Confidence Index fell to 64.5 in March — a five-year low — from 76.4 in February.
As a result, vendors and merchants are exercising caution as they try to figure out what will make consumers open up their wallets and decipher winning formulas for the second half of the year. Most of the talk in the market involves sticking to basics and replenishable product. Other experts believe fashion will be the stimulus needed to turn on the consumer.
Lee Chaden, chairman of Hanesbrands Inc., said in a recent interview: "Make sure you have a commitment to basics, whether it's socks, T-shirts or underwear, and stick with market leaders. When retail gets sluggish, the retail reaction is to reduce inventories. What I've seen during these inventory-conservation periods is some customers end up out of stock on core items."
Despite a sour economic climate, fashion items continue to generate the demand for innovation and newness, especially if the items offer special-looking fabrics, textures, treatments, updated silhouettes and fashion colors and prints, as well as styling and silhouettes that address a lifestyle image.
Marcia Leeds, chief executive officer of Richard Leeds International, said the company "overcame the dark and bleak landscape" in the market with the introduction of two new ideas: updated, softly tailored pajamas with feminine embellishments by French Jenny and a new brand called Comfort Food.
"We renamed our holiday collections Season 4 Ever because holiday orders keep dragging and I think buyers are very nervous," Leeds said. "Our new brand, Comfort Food, will be in stores in fall. Its been well received because the whole idea of the line is it's lightweight and comfortable like 'I can't wait to go home and put on these pj's after a stressful day.' Retailers liked the idea of pj's, rompers and two-piece sets in fun colors in cropped silhouettes with novelty buttons and cozy fabrics like brushed cotton knit interlock."