Clothing store owners say they're offering lower price points than they have in the past and being careful to not order more merchandise than can be sold in a challenging economic environment.
If a single piece of clothing could capture today’s downbeat economic mood, the striking red, floral skirt that Serpil Kaymaz holds up probably wouldn’t be it. But like many clothiers in the Seattle area, Kaymaz believes she needs to offer exciting merchandise this fall, or else customers will simply make do with what they have.
Kaymaz, who owns the Alhambra clothing boutique across from Pike Place Market, praises the skirt as “not your basic piece,” adding, “I know people will buy it.”
Other local boutique owners say they’re preparing for a tough fall season by carrying fewer eye-popping price tags than they have in the past and being careful to not order more merchandise than can be sold in a challenging economic environment.
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Somewhat surprisingly, they say, they’re focused on selling merchandise that “wows” customers in hopes of persuading them to put aside their concerns about an erratic stock market and declining home values and splurge on a new fall outfit.
At La Ree in Bellevue, a large window off 103rd Avenue showcases an electric-blue long-sleeve dress for $253. Linda Sabee, owner of Carmilia’s in West Seattle, plans to display colorful wool coats, each costing about $100. And The Finerie in downtown Seattle features a mustard-yellow trench coat with a brown cashmere scarf for $98.
“I’ve found that people are a little more cautious with their purchases. But if something speaks to them, the price doesn’t matter as much,” said Finerie owner Tanya Friberg.
A widespread slowdown in consumer spending is hitting locally owned boutiques just as they face an influx of competition from such national or international retailers as H&M, Neiman Marcus, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Bottega Veneta, and 7 For All Mankind. All recently opened, or will soon open, their first Seattle-area stores.
What’s more, Barneys New York occupies a prominent downtown position after its move to Pacific Place last year, and Louis Vuitton reportedly plans to expand Eastside next year with a store at The Bravern in Bellevue.
Joan Kelly, who produces a fall fashion show for locally owned boutiques, predicts the difficult economy, coupled with fierce competition, will be too much for some to bear, and they’ll go out of business. Those who survive will have maintained their customer service and avoided the temptation to “under-inventory,” or order such little merchandise that they miss out on sale opportunities, she said.
Kelly’s fifth-annual Fashion First event last month attracted a record turnout of about 1,000 people who paid up to $1,000 each to see a dozen local boutiques offer their take on the season’s trends. Among the more notable pairings: baggy “boyfriend” jeans with a tiered halter top, black skinny jeans with a cowl-neck, bell-sleeve blouse and a black strapless wide-leg jumpsuit with fuchsia heels.
“I think people probably are going to try to hold onto their clothes a little longer and make it through one more season with what they have,” said Kelly, who teaches at the Art Institute of Seattle’s School of Fashion Merchandising. “So I would say that things in stores need to be more novel. They need to be something that people haven’t seen before.”
Sway & Cake owner Tamara Donaghy said she’s trying to appeal to cash- and credit-strapped customers by finding new, up-and-coming labels with “reasonable” prices. She sells, for example, a short-sleeved gray sweater with a fabric tie around the waist and a relatively obscure label. Its price tag: $150. A similar sweater by a well-known label, she noted, would cost $300.
“We’re just looking out for our girls,” Donaghy said. “They want to keep shopping — they just would like to have a little bit more of a price-minded selection.”
At Mario’s downtown, fashion director Lynwood Holmberg said she has sought unusual merchandise in the belief that most women want something other than “another black suit” for the fall.
“We do have a lot of things in deep black, but they have lace and velvet and ribbons and bows,” Holmberg said. “I would say 90-some percent of our business is people wanting a special piece.
“If you’re watching what you spend, you want to make everything count,” she said.
Jenn Kenner, 26, of Capitol Hill, said she’s being more strategic about her buying decisions than last year, when she thought nothing of getting a few “random filler” pieces to go with a favorite outfit. Kenner, who works as an aesthetician and bartender, said she’s noticing her own customers cutting back on their discretionary spending, dampening her personal financial outlook.
“I have to love a piece to buy it,” said Kenner, dressed fashionably in a black leather motorcycle jacket, striped long T-shirt and skinny jeans. “I’ll probably wear the same things more often and just accessorize.”
The spending slowdown also appears to have reached well-heeled, fashion-conscious men. At Marqsmen, a men’s clothing and accessories store in Bellevue Square, owner Marques Warren said he’s scaling back on orders from his most-expensive labels.
“Men are the first group to step back from high-priced clothing,” Warren said. “A guy will still buy himself a Maserati, but he’s less likely to spend $300 on a new shirt unless he absolutely falls in love with it.”
Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or firstname.lastname@example.org