THE DALLAS APPAREL MART IS in the business of clothing Middle America. That business takes place in a climate-controlled, windowless world within the Dallas Market Center, a world whose inhabitants talk clothes and whirr around like carnival barkers amid a mind-boggling mix of style numbers, sizes, prices. and colors.
Eighty-thousand buyers a year jam the mart to order clothing wholesale from manufacturers to sell to their customers in stores across the country. New York is still the leader in wholesale garment marketing, but Dallas is in third place, closely following Los Angeles. For many stores, Dallas is the only source. The decisions made at the mart determine what many of us will be ableto buy next season. The atmosphere may be carnival, but the business is serious: $1.5 billion a year.
In the honeycomb of corridors that makes up the Dallas mart, wholesalers have their own showrooms. Display clothing drapes the walls and samples fill the racks like prizes hanging in a carnival booth. In fact, one can envision dozens of buyers with stuffed animals tucked under their arms or flowers in their lapels, eating hot dogs and ice cream parfaits-the rewards of shopping one of the 1550 wall-to-wall showrooms which line the hallways of the mart.
Most showrooms consist of a single room the size of a large living room, furnished with tables and chairs. Some are spacious and luxurious-Bobbie Brooks Inc. recently spent a small fortune having their five-room complex remodeled by Gene Adcock, who is known for his design work on Wilt Chamberlain’s house. Except in the better-ready-to-wear section (where all showrooms are enclosed), at least one wall of each showroom is glass and contains the “hottest” items exhibited. The hottest items may be anything from a hat to a dress to a live, gyrating model dressed in a frock from Funky’s Mistress Collection (a popular: sight at markets). The object is to turn enough window shoppers into buyers.
There are as few as one or as many as ten sales persons in a single showroom. Each sales person shows the complete line (a sample of every design the manufacturing company has to offer) of garments available to customers of that market. Models frequently are employed (at $25-$45 per day) to give the buyer an idea of how the garment should look and also to make the entire package a little more appealing.
A buyer may represent an entire store or a department within that store, depending on the size of the firm. After seeing what lines throughout the mart have to offer, he orders enough merchandise to fill his needs for the season, specifying size, color, quantity, and attempting to coordinate his purchases with other things he has ordered. Again, depending on the size of the store, an average order from a clothing manufacturer who offers a wide variety of popular styles may run anywhere from $2000 to $50,000.
At the bottom of the clothing chain, clothes cost almost nothing. There is no telling how many middlemen come between the raw materials and the cloth, for example, or the cloth and the manufacturer. But between a man and his shirt one can hazard a guess. Large firms design and manufacture their own garments. Some weave their own fabrics. Small firms may do no more than buy merchandise from large manufacturers. However the garment is spun into existence, a shopper may be absolutely certain that when he buys an $18 shirt in the store it costs him twice as much as the owner of the store paid for it (unless the shirt is on sale). The owner of the store may be fairly certain that he paid twice what the wholesaler paid and so on.
Although all companies sell year round through traveling salesmen, at permanent offices, by phone and mail, most Apparel Mart showrooms are open only five times yearly. These five weeks are strategically located within the fashion year. Dallas is the first market of each new season, and every company, regardless of size or prestige, works around the clock to be ready for Dallas where they will be able to test their line and make adjustments before the first showing of the season in New York. Sales in Dallas are good indicators: numbers (particular garments) which do not sell may be pulled (taken out of the line), fabrics may be changed, modifications made. It’s like the Boston run of a Broadway play.
The Women’s and Children’s Wear Market, the largest and most publicized, occurs five times a year: in January for mid-summer clothing; in March for early fall; in May for fall; in August for midwinter; in October for spring. Although each market period lasts only a little less than a week (Friday through Thursday), during a single market enough wholesale merchandise is sold to stock 6000 retail stores. This does not include business done during Men’s and Boy’s Wear markets (five times a year) and Shoe markets, (two times a year). Recent statistics reveal that during a market week in Dallas there are more buyers in attendance than in any single week at the New York or Los Angeles markets, which are open continuously throughout the year.
During these seasonal population explosions (with 12,000 buyers and 5000 sales personnel), the population of the Apparel Mart soars to that of a small town, and produces one of mankind’s most awesome displays of false eyelashes, wigs, toupees, and clotheshorses. (Most individuals associated with the apparel business are able to buy their wardrobes wholesale.) Buyers are both male and female. They are young and kinky, veterans who haven’t missed a market in 30 years, and everywhere in between. Methods of buying are as varied as the faces. There are impulsive buyers; they like it, they buy it. “I’ll take a dozen of that and a dozen of that—in each color—and isn’t this one cute….” Others bring electronic cal- culators to market, carefully computing total purchases. But generally a buyer knows what he needs and how much of it. He can’t afford too many wrong decisions;