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SAN MATEO, Calif.—A good economy made for good business at the Oct. 21–23 run of Fashion Market Northern California at the San Mateo County Event Center.
The retailers attending FMNC during a sunny autumn weekend noted that their customers were buying more. However, a more confident retailer did not mean that boutique owners had entirely changed their buying habits of the past decade.
A significant number were making Immediates orders, buying close to season, vendors said. The show provided a chance to stock up on inventory before consumers start shopping for the crucial holiday season. The October market ended almost one month before Black Friday, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.
Vendor space was sold out at FMNC, said Mary Taft, executive director. There were 209 exhibitors displaying fashions ranging from knit dresses, caftans, denim, outerwear and lingerie to hats, footwear and jewelry. FMNC is held five times throughout the year, and the October show marked the last event on its 2018 calendar.
The regional trade show mostly serves independent boutiques in the San Francisco Bay Area and the wider Northern California region. But it also attracts boutiques from the Pacific Northwest and around the Western United States. A wide range of boutiques visited the show, including the Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Placer County, 30 miles northeast of Sacramento. Also attending were California Lifestyle, a boutique located in Terminal 3 of San Francisco International Airport, and Suji, a boutique from Santa Monica, Calif.
Consumer confidence soared to an 18-year high in September, according to The Conference Board, a nonprofit market-research group, which takes the pulse of American shoppers. The sentiment marks a rebound, said Tricia Hancock, founder of the boutique Voluptuary in Los Gatos, Calif.
“Things are coming back to where they were before the  election,” Hancock said. Jitters from the political turmoil of the
2016 election season caused many shoppers to scale back their consumption. Fierce competition from e-commerce also took a bite out of bricks-and-mortar boutique retail. Recently, boutique shopping started to make a rebound. “A lot of boutiques went out of business,” she said. “But people are coming back to shopping at boutiques. They want to try and feel garments again.”
Politics will continue to shape business. Since President Trump levied larger tariffs on Chinese goods, the number of tourists from China that visit California Lifestyle has dropped, said Rilla Ginsberg, founder of the airport-based retailer. “We have to capture more domestic business,” she said.
However, a unique time in U.S. history does not call for a specific look, said Sheryl Moyle, owner of the Trendz Boutique & Salon in Sonora, Calif., which is located in California’s Gold Country. “Almost anything goes,” Moyle said of the current style trends. Looks from the 1980s are increasingly in vogue, especially bright colors, leg warmers and acid-wash fabrics that were big during the Reagan era, said Tammy Cooper, who also works at Trendz.
While Southern California continues to enjoy summerlike weather, Northern California retailers are anticipating colder weather in the coming months, said Wink Wells, co-owner of the Wells Apparel Group. “I’m doing a lot of robes and pajamas. We’re selling a lot of warm clothes,” he said.
Faux-fur outerwear and clothes with faux-fur trim were featured at several booths, including at the Vine Street Apparel brand.
Raffi Mauleon displayed his Raffi brand of hand-painted tops at the show. He said business was good but that around 60 percent of his customers were making orders for Immediates. Fern Liberson of Fern Liberson & Co also said buyers were focusing on the near future. “I got a lot of Immediates. I got a little bit of Spring. I won’t complain. I got 24 stores in two days,” Liberson said of retailers ordering at her booth.
Like any other trade show, there was a range of opinion on the amount and quality of buyer traffic. Vendor reactions on buyer traffic ranged from solid to great. “Turnout is good. We always do well here,” said Silvio Dano, who represented the European line Ivko.
“We had a lot of new accounts, and our schedule was busy,” said Sharon Koshet, a veteran vendor at FMNC.
It also pays to show up, according to exhibitors. Designers Cara Ucci and Ruby Bettencourt put in appearances at the Crayola Sisters booth. Ucci estimated that sales for her Caraucci brand increased 30 percent over the FMNC show in August. “Instead of talking to customers over the phone, we met them face-to-face,” Ucci said.
The FMNC calendar starts again in 2019 with the first show of the year scheduled to run Jan. 27–29 at the San Mateo County Event Center.
Photos by Andrew Asch