Seen & Heard: Balancing Basics vs. Fashion Leos

Displays of Sansha and Só Dança leos at New Mexico Dancewear earlier this year

There’s no secret formula to selling basic leotards or more fashion-forward alternatives. Overall, basic leotards sell throughout the year, and fashionable ones can sell at various times—for performances or to add some bling to basic attire. Here’s how three retailers are mixing things up with basics and fashion year-round—from window displays to merchandising both in their in-store displays—and why pink, lace and velour and more are key for fall 2018.

Nathalie Velasquez

Nathalie & Co. Dancewear and
Little Things
Phoenix, AZ

Most times I’ll put fashion pieces on a rack and arrange them by style—like pink with adjustable straps, tank tops, long-sleeve, short-sleeve. In the kids’ section I color-code them, so it looks like a rainbow and is visually appealing. For back-to-school, we’ll fold them on a table and do a bundle.

I display basics with some printed skirts to add a little color. The challenge is breaking up the black. At some point all customers have to have black, so we’ll put some fashion that’s subtle alongside these basics—maybe a fashion piece that’s embellished on the back but plain in front with a spaghetti strap. Then we can put other spaghetti strap and like pieces near it to merchandise. We’ll also put some basics on mannequins and make sure we put something more fashion-forward or colorful with it to make it pop a little.

When ordering, naturally I order basics first, because it’s so easy to run out of these, depending on the time of year. Although there may not be so much excitement around basics, sales for both categories are about equal. Sometimes with back-to-school, parents are looking for a lower price point, so occasionally basics might do a little better, but it has always been about half and half.

Most of our sales for basics go to tiny toddlers and/or high school students. A lot of times high school students just want something cheap and affordable. Most of the time, with our basics, it’s savvy consumers looking for them.

This year, we’re bringing in a few new brands that we haven’t before, including AinslieWear and Ballet Rosa.

This fall is about florals (darker, eggplant colors) and mesh. Velour is also making a comeback. It’s funny because I think velour has completely left gymnastics fashion, but is making its way back into dance. Also, we’re seeing more color-blocking and blush, and muted jewel tones, like olive and burgundy, are still going strong.

Mary Ann Hanlon

Mary Ann’s Dance and More
Easthampton, MA

Several studios in our area have dress codes—either specific styles/color or basic black—so it’s hard to balance the basics with fashion. We order the basics based on the needs of dress codes and then add in fashion. The basic leotards are probably 75 percent of the inventory versus 25 percent for fashion.

Studio dress-code leotards are displayed on racks by themselves with signage helping parents and dancers find their level and correct color; other basic leotards are displayed on a rack for children and another for adults. Fashion leotards take center stage with a display just as you enter the store, so as not to be missed.

Most studios without a dress code allow their dancers to purchase the fashion leotards. And there are studios with strict dress codes that do allow non–dress-code leotards to be worn during rehearsals, so that’s typically when those customers will purchase the fashion leotards.

Ballet Rosa has been the most requested fashion leotard—they fit so well and wear just as well. Parents/dancers don’t mind spending the little extra for them.

For fall, lace is the most requested leotard trend for us.

Loube McIver

New Mexico Dancewear
Albuquerque, NM

Basics are 60 percent of our leotards business, and fashion is 40 percent. Basics are more important to us, because they are required by studios. We put our basics on a reorder program in our computer, and every Monday we bring up that report and order what we need. Overall, basics have several discounts available and fashion is marked up to mark down.

We plan that 10 to 25 percent of fashion will need to be markdown. If we are really good with our fashion buys, then we will have a higher margin or more profit.

At New Mexico Dancewear, we usually place fashion leos in the window and in speed-bump displays up front in the store to attract customers.

We have a pretty conservative kids’ market—kids under the age of 14 being required to wear a specific basic leotard, or they just have to wear a black or pink leotard. We buy fashion according to what styles and color are trending in the marketplace. Our main fashion vendors are Motionwear, Só Dança, Bloch/Mirella, Body Wrappers and Capezio.

This year we were really looking for different vendors with different looks, like Ballet Rosa, Lulli Dancewear and Grand Prix. This also gives us a competitive advantage—showing new vendors to our customers who want to look different.

The new color is pink! Also, turtlenecks and high-necked leotards, roses, unusual prints and textures, ankle pants and skirts are hot for us this year.

Tina Benitez-Eves, a New York City–based writer, is a frequent contributor to Dance Retailer News.


Photo courtesy of New Mexico Dancewear

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