Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Retailers Lure Teens With Biker Jackets to Add Sales (Update2)

By Cotten Timberlake (Source: Bloomberg)

Nordstrom Inc. and Urban Outfitters Inc. are pushing faux-leather biker jackets, plaid shirts and “boyfriend jeans” as retailers seek to revive back-to-school sales.

“If the stores don’t get the fashion right, nothing else can make up for that,” said Jennifer Black, the owner of Jennifer Black & Associates, a Lake Oswego, Oregon-based apparel research firm. “There is a lot of fashion newness now after a two-year drought.”

Chains are touting the most new fashion trends since 2007, she said. Some retailers have latched on to looks popularized in the vampire film “Twilight” to boost sales in July, August and September, said Roseanne Morrison, fashion director at Doneger Group. Back-to-school is the busiest shopping season other than the Christmas holidays.

In stores open at least a year, sales at apparel chains that cater to teenagers fell 13 percent in the five months through June, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Retailers report July sales results this week.

This back-to-school season, “there are key ‘must have’ fashion items (boyfriend jeans, blazers, plaid shirts) that the teen customer will seek out once the school season starts, which could result in improved sales trends” in the second half of 2009, Christine Chen, an analyst with Needham & Co. in San Francisco, wrote in a report yesterday.

Motorcycle Jackets

Vampire styles are part of a larger trend toward gothic, edgier looks that include the black fake-leather motorcycle jackets, worn with black or gray “destructed” denim or leather leggings, and graphic T-shirts or flowy tops, said Morrison of Doneger Group, a New York-based trend forecasting firm. She also sees “a preponderance” of zippers, studs, and ripped clothes.

Nordstrom’s Web site featured such jackets for teens, including a Lulu & Veronica biker jacket for $44.90 and a Sashimi-brand version for $68. In October, the Seattle-based retailer will start selling goods inspired by the sequel to “Twilight.” The first film, released last November, has taken in almost $400 million worldwide at the box office.

Hot Topic Inc., a chain based in City of Industry, California, sells licensed “Twilight” clothing and accessories.

Nordstrom executives weren’t immediately available for interviews for this article, said Brooke White, a company spokeswoman. Hot Topic doesn’t comment on specific products, said its spokeswoman Leigh Rodwick.

‘Boyfriend’ Look

Retailers are also pushing the farmhand and boyfriend fashions, Morrison said. Farmhand style, inspired by the trend toward seasonal natural foods, “revolves around denim,” she said. “For women, it’s soft and prairie-inspired, with crinkled shirts. For guys, it’s plaid shirts, rugged boots, worn denim.”

The “boyfriend” look features oversized, loose-fitting garments for girls and young women. It may have been spurred by actress Katie Holmes and pop singer Victoria Beckham, Black said. Urban Outfitters, based in Philadelphia, featured tweed and other boyfriend jackets for $48 to $88. American Eagle Outfitters Inc. offered nine styles of boyfriend jeans priced $19.95 to $49.50, and men’s plaid shirts in poplin and flannel.

Urban Outfitters Chief Financial Officer John Kyees didn’t return a call seeking comment. Representatives for American Eagle declined to comment, Jani Strand, a spokeswoman, said.

‘Fun Again’

Retailers in 2008 pushed less interesting screen-print T- shirts, dresses and sheepskin boots, said Morrison. Hooded sweatshirts have dominated for several years, as have khakis, and polo shirts. Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for market research firm NPD Group Inc. in Port Washington, New York, described last year’s fashions as boring, the colors dull.

“There is some excitement out there,” said Cohen. “Some of the stores look terrific, with bright colors and new silhouettes. It’s fun again.”

August and September school-related sales may climb 2.3 percent to $26.5 billion after last year’s 1.4 percent drop, according to the ICSC. They jumped 3.3 percent in 2007. The group, which relies on U.S. Commerce Department data, predicts family clothing will gain 2.5 percent in July through September compared with last year.

“You have started to see little signs of growth here and there,” Mike Niemira, the New York-based ICSC’s chief economist, said in a July 24 telephone interview. “It will be slow initially and then accelerate as the holiday season approaches.” U.S. holiday sales last year dropped the most in four decades.

‘Rave Reviews’

“For the coming back-to-school season, Aeropostale has increased its product testing and has received rave reviews from teens for our fall merchandise,” said Ken Ohashi, a company spokesman.

Standard & Poor’s 11-company Midcap Apparel Retail Index -- which includes Urban Outfitters, Aeropostale Inc. and American Eagle -- has climbed 70 percent this year, after plunging 45 percent in 2008 and 30 percent the year before. The index declined 3 percent at 4 p.m. New York time today.

The U.S. unemployment rate in June reached its highest level in almost 26 years, threatening consumer spending, which fell in the second quarter.

The average family with students in kindergarten through 12th grade plans to spend $548.72 on school merchandise, a 7.7 percent decline from last year, according to a survey released July 14 by the Washington-based National Retail Federation and BIGresearch.

“The little splurge opportunity may evaporate altogether if shoppers can’t find something different and intriguing to buy,” Wendy Liebmann, chief executive officer of the New York consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail, wrote in a July 23 report.

More spending will shift to September as students on tight budgets wait to see what classmates are wearing to make sure they get it right, said Adrienne Tennant, an apparel analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co. in Arlington, Virginia.

Innovation, the ICSC’s Niemira said, is a logical outcome of the slowdown. “Everyone learns from recession,” he said.

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