Botkier Seeking an Investor

The recession-weary contemporary handbag brand hopes to expand its reach.

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Botkier is hoping to take its business to the next level.

This story first appeared in the December 23, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Monica Botkier, the firm’s owner and designer, confirmed reports that the contemporary handbag company is on the hunt for an investor.

“All these years that I’ve been in the business, I’ve been approached by people. At the time, I didn’t need it and I didn’t feel like I needed it,” Botkier told WWD. “Now, my mind-set is different. My plans for the company are different. I want to expand more than we are organically now.”

Artisan House, Steve Russo’s contemporary handbag venture which recently bought Foley + Corinna and signed licensing deals with Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B. and Charlotte Ronson, is on the hunt for new blood. But Botkier said she’s still in the process of surveying the landscape and hasn’t committed to anyone yet.

Launched in 2003, the New York-based brand has had to make adjustments in pricing and merchandise in the face of an increasingly competitive environment.

According to the designer, before the economic downturn hit in 2008, the contemporary space was “wide open.” The retail “sweet spot” was just under $600, and many smaller independent brands were able to flourish. But once the recession took hold, consumers were less willing to pay those prices, and when they did buy handbags, they went to larger retailers like Coach or diffusion lines like Marc by Marc Jacobs.

“Competing with huge businesses and conglomerates with deep pockets requires funding beyond the natural course of running a profitable business,” the designer said. “Everyone in handbags has encroached on this price point [$595] from the higher end.”

Before the recession, Botkier’s handbags topped out at $900 and included more exotic skins, haircalf and python. Roughly 70 percent of her offering was over $595, and the brand was in upscale stores like Barneys New York. Now, half of Botkier’s collection comprises bags under $400, which she dubs “the new sweet spot,” and it has taken on a more classic look made primarily of leather.

In order to stay relevant, Botkier also repositioned her merchandise to target a consumer in her late 20s to early 40s, which isn’t novel for brands in the space. Rival Rebecca Minkoff recently lowered its prices and readjusted its offering to appeal to a younger contemporary consumer in her late teens to early 20s.

Botkier has also been made to embrace the independence of her brand, after her contract with showroom Cynthia O’Connor + Co. — which subsequently went out of business recently — expired last year.

A former fashion photographer, Botkier is now shooting her own marketing and advertising campaigns — the first will surface for the spring collection. She also runs her own showroom, which entails “rebuilding” relationships with old accounts like Bergdorf’s and Neiman Marcus, neither of which have re-signed yet.

However, the brand, which currently has a stand-alone store in New York’s NoLIta neighborhood, has garnered 50 new accounts this year, for a total of 200 worldwide. Botkier declined to give financials, but said that since last spring, sales have grown 20 percent.

Until she gets an infusion of capital, Botkier is extending the brand with collaborations, including one with Swatch to design a watch for the spring.

The brand also opened a showroom in London where demand is “strong for New York brands,” according to the designer, who emphasized the importance of growing slowly.

“Our approach is very natural. It’s very hands on,” she said from her bright showroom in SoHo. “Feeling individual is part of our appeal. That said, the right partnership can make a wonderful difference.”

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