There was a healthy balance of optimism and realism at the UK's Aimex Menswear Show this week, as brands pitched their latest ranges to buyers from independent retailers.

"Most independent retailers have had a good season. The feeling is better than last year and most are optimistic," Richard Ireland, event organiser and menswear controller of Associated Independent Stores, told just-style.

He went onto say although traditional high street chains like Marks & Spencer and Next had been suffering with lower spending in the UK, independent retailers like Asos and Fenwick remained buoyant.

Online fashion store Asos has continued to buck the trend of tough trading conditions in the UK, and last week boasted an 86% year-on-year sales increase for the seven-week period to 20 January. It also forecast full-year profits ahead of already high expectations.

The 35,000 sq ft Aimex show, which is held twice a year in Solihull, Birmingham, attracted 100 exhibitors including Mexx, Farah, Pierre Cardin, Van Heusen, Carter, Pringle, Rockport and Esprit.

Representatives for Esprit GB (pictured above), were especially optimistic about the sector - having added arms to its UK offering and opened a new 12,000 sq ft showroom in Farringdon, London.

The company's Esprit brand has been operating in the UK for six years, while its aspirational teen brand EDC is still in its first year of trading in the UK, just-style was told.

Esprit Holdings, which yesterday (30 January) posted a 38.6% increase in worldwide profit during 2007 to HKD$5,180m (US$664m), is looking to tap further into the UK after returning impressive revenue growth in Italy and Spain last year.

just-style canvassed a general feeling from other brand exhibitors that although 2008 is unlikely to be a boom year for the country's high street amid fears of a recession, that there are enough exciting products for the sector to recover and even thrive by the summer.

Ireland believes that brands can meet any challenges thrown up by a high street slowdown by innovating and offering something different.

"Aimex offers a unique opportunity to show something that is not on the high street," he told just-style.

By Joe Ayling, news editor