The clothing business is tough from top to bottom. Margins are tight, customers are fickle, and competition is intense. Nevertheless, Warnaco (NASDAQ:WRNC) seems to be continuing to make progress with its three-pronged approach to apparel.

Sales in the second quarter climbed 13% as strong sportswear sales helped offset weakness in swimwear. Sales of sportswear products climbed by more than 31%, thanks in part to strong sales of the Chaps brand, while swimwear sales dropped by about 1%. The intimate-apparel business turned in a more-or-less baseline performance, with about 12% top-line growth.

Gross margins eased off a bit in the quarter, with the company assigning the blame to a shift in product mix and higher promotional expenses for new product launches. Management recouped this dip on operating expenses, though, and the operating margin improved by 30 basis points for the quarter.

Denim seems to be one of the strongest product categories in retail right now, with retailers such as Guess? (NYSE:GES), American Eagle (NASDAQ:AEOS), and Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF) seeing solid results. Not to be left out, Warnaco's Chaps and Calvin Klein brands seem to be more than holding their own and making definite contributions to the business.

Although the swimwear business has been a real disappointment so far, the company's inventory situation doesn't look too bad. True, inventories have risen by about 22%, but that also includes plans for an expansion of the Chaps brand, as well as growth in the international arena and additional new products.

Warnaco is something of a platform-neutral play on retail. The company sells into higher-end retailers like Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN), mid-market department stores like Saks (NYSE:SKS), and discounters like Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), which should give it some protection from the vagaries of taste and shopping trends. What's more, very few shoppers realize that the Chaps, Calvin Klein, Nautica, and J. Lo brands are all part of the same company, so even if one product line fails, it doesn't taint the rest in the minds of fickle and image-conscious buyers.

While retail has had a heck of a run, it's consistently been very dangerous to predict the demise of consumer spending. So I'm not going to do that here. Rather, I'll just point out that Warnaco does have some exposure to the higher-priced segments of retail (for example, the Calvin Klein labels) and a trailing P/E of about 20.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).