Sole Commerce Buyers Upbeat

NEW YORK — Though retailers at last week’s Sole Commerce show took varied approaches to buying for spring ’10, one thing is certain: Many people are feeling considerably better than a year ago.

“We’re 100 percent more confident,” said Fraser Ross, owner of Kitson in Los Angeles, who took to the show floor with buyers from Kitson Japan for the first time. “This is going to be a good year.”

Still, Ross said he would not allow new-found confidence to change the way he approached writing orders during the show, noting he is focused on buying closer to the season than in years past. “We’re chasing the goods and taking on more for fall,” he said. “It’s a two-month window right now.”

Meanwhile, Katie Rowand, co-owner of Rich Hippie in Ashburn, Va., said she is cautiously bringing on more footwear brands, but said the economic environment seems to be improving and bringing with it renewed confidence.

Though Rowand said she plans to up her footwear selection from a handful of styles to about 30 SKUs in the $75-to-$200 range for spring, she is seeking out classics that are not as trend-forward. “I’m being a little safe,” she said. “There’s just not a lot of risk-taking right now.”

But Karen Williamson, owner of the Barefoot Tess boutique in Pikesville, Md., said that the fresh designs and vibrant colors are drawing her in for spring.

“Before, there was a lot of safe stuff and nothing exciting,” she said, noting the new styles coupled with optimism bodes well for the season. “Things are picking up, [and] people are buying more. There’s definitely a sense that things are getting better.”

Vendors, too, said they noticed a new level of confidence during the three-day show and are hopeful the upbeat attitude translates into a better overall season.

“The fact that they come [into the booth] and ask questions is already different,” said Carolina Sadowski, designer of the Brazilian-made Carolina Pagano brand. “[Earlier in the year], they would come in and look around and say nothing. Now the conversation is started.”

While Sadowski said she was writing orders almost exclusively for spring ’10 product, other vendors, including Modern Vintage’s Rick Cytrynbaum saw a surge in fall orders during the show.

“We’re up 90 percent for immediate fall orders,” he said, adding that his brand’s tall, leather boots were popular buys during the show. “People are buying a lot closer to the season and are looking at what we have for January, February and March [deliveries].”

Still, vendors said retailers and consumers are not going to be quick to return to pre-recession spending.

In response to that, Andre Assous, known for his espadrille sandals, said he has been working with retailers that ask for concessions, including offering a percentage off on orders written during the show, or giving clients longer to pay. “You can’t do it for everybody,” he said, “but you have to find a way to work with people.”

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