Buyers at GDS Cautious Amid European Economic Crunch

DÜSSELDORF, Germany — With an unsettled European economy, buyers eyeing fall ’13 styles at GDS here last week adopted a largely conservative approach to their orders.

Orna Fitzpatrick, a buyer for Thomas Patrick in Dublin, said she was focused on minimizing risks with her inventory. “We’re being really cautious, really careful,” she said. “We’re cutting back and taking on smaller pairage, tinier amounts. We’re just putting most of the pairage in safer styles.”

Kathrina Neumann, an Austrian buyer with a store in Vienna, was looking for shoes with good value: high quality for a reasonable price. “The economy affects us because we bought expensive shoes last fall, and nobody will buy them,” she said. “Now we are looking for quality shoes, but not so fancy.”

Some retailers see the move toward conservative styles among their competition as an opportunity.

Jan de Laat, a buyer for de Laat Schoenen & Trends in Oosterhout, Holland, said he was doing “the opposite” from most buyers and looking for “something extraordinary.” He noticed metallic and pony accents as big trends at the show.

Barbara Dick, who opened her own footwear store in the German town Bergneustadt 18 months ago, hoped to work with smaller brands that didn’t mind if her orders were modest. “I buy from a lot of firms that don’t have a minimum order requirement, so not 200 pairs from one company but more like six pieces,” she said. “Then I try it out in the store, and if it works, I order more.”

Fred Bschaden, an agent for Red Wing Shoes in Europe, noted most of his company’s business comes from reorders. “If you have a fashion item on stock [as a retailer] and it doesn’t work well … you have to blow the inventory away for more or less nothing,” he said.

On the trend front, collections across the board were incorporating lots of black and rich, woody colors, such as oxblood, olive green, midnight blue, burgundy and hazelnut. “How did somebody say it? ‘Black is back,’” said Andrés May, an agent for Joop Shoes. “And not just plain black, but black on a range of different materials and different grades of shiny.”

Vendors and retailers agreed there also was a shift toward more wearable shoes. “The trend is going away from platforms and also away from very high shoes,” said Annette Domhardt, a sales manager representing the Aerin and Rachel Zoe brands. “This season, a 9-centimeter [or 3.5-inch] heel is really great, and everything is lower, like shoes that you can wear day and evening. The trend is going much more casual. Buyers want to have brands with a longer lifespan.”

But the fashion conservatism might not be purely driven by the economy. Kristin Deutelmoser, director of GDS, said, “I have a feeling it’s because we had a lot of color in the last season and [the designers] know that after their second pair of shoes in green and red, people think, ‘I could perhaps use a little bit of black.’”