By and  on August 19, 2011

Battling soaring gold prices, rising labor costs, stock market volatility and an already cash-strapped consumer, accessories designers have charged forward with an antidote that they hope will cure their business woes.

With the intention of luring new customers, designers exhibiting at ENK’s Accessories Circuit and Accessories the Show, held at New York’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center from July 31 to Aug. 2, placed their bets on trends like rose gold and oxidized silver jewelry, semiprecious stones such as opals and pearls, and handbags made from natural materials like bamboo and exotic skins (both real and fake).

“I feel that the consumer is very worried about the economy,” said Sara Taublib, owner and designer of Basically Brazil LLC, a handbag company that’s feeling the pinch of rising costs. “It’s been a bumpy road. I’ve kept my overhead low. I think that’s the only way to survive right now.”

In order to keep costs down, Taublib has decided to use less leather in her bags, but she said she isn’t willing to move her brand’s manufacturing base to a country where materials and labor are less expensive.

“I don’t want to be China,” she said, emphasizing the importance of brand authenticity. “I’m looking for a customer who is looking for something different.”

Isaac Manevitz, designer and founder of jewelry brand Ben-Amun, agreed, stressing the significance of consistency and brand tradition.

“We haven’t started using different materials, we cannot compromise on the quality of our collections,” he said. “We have kept producing in our factory in New York in the Garment District as we have for over 30 years, which is helpful. We feel that [given] rising prices, we must maintain the integrity of the brand until material costs are lowered.”

Like Basically Brazil’s handbags, Ben-Amun’s trendy baubles don’t generally exceed $500, which makes both brands members of the venerable yet highly competitive world of accessible luxury.

“In today’s economy, consumers will only spend if they feel they’re getting great value for the price,” said Manevitz. “We currently have less of a markup to maintain the same prices our customers have grown to expect. Right now we are absorbing the percentage of increase.”

But even higher-end brands are sensitive to ensuring that their consumers have a strong balance of price and value.

Consumers are still looking for a certain level of “sophistication in design and craftsmanship,” even though there’s less wealth and disposable income out there, according to Phillips Frankel designers and founders Danielle and Lisa Frankel.

With retail prices between $700 and $8,000, Phillips Frankel has found a “new market position” in the wake of rising market prices — and it’s one they’re running with.

Since launching the brand in August 2010, the designers have been using 14-karat gold, which they said has provided their customers with “greater durability and long-term value.” It’s also been a way for the brand to keep costs down, but consumers don’t seem to mind.

In fact, last month Harrods — which traditionally focuses on 18-karat gold fine jewelry collections — began carrying Phillips Frankel in its London flagship, and in three days saw a 25 percent sell-through and placed a reorder.

“People want to see authenticity more and more,” said Jay Kim, the owner of Bamboo Style, an Indonesia-based company that makes handbags from sustainable materials like rosewood, silk cocoon, sea grass and palm leaf.

What initially prompted Kim to start the brand in Indonesia six years ago wasn’t the price of labor but the abundance of natural materials there.

“Indonesia is paradise for bags,” he said, adding that buyers have been flocking to snap up some of his more unusual items, like a clutch woven from Vetiveria root.

“Costs may be cheaper in Indonesia, but the way I see it is, how much value do [workers] create?” he said, referencing the amount of time it’s taken for his employees to gain technical proficiencies. “The most important thing is the way we make our product. It’s different. It’s not mass produced.

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