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True Value

Accessories are still viewed as a solid value, which helps sales in a weak retail environment.

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Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD MAGIC issue 08/25/2008

AS TRAVEL BUDGETS AMONG RETAILERS AND

catalogue companies are slashed, and the costs of raw materials continue to skyrocket, accessory vendors are seeking ever more inventive ways to draw customers in and help ensure they have a strong and profitable sell-through to guarantee repeat business.

As with other fashion categories, accessories have fallen prey to slower sales growth and more ordering in-season. But manufacturers say the plus side for them is that accessories continue to be regarded as a valuable — and a good value — item in an otherwise saturated market, saying that, when all else fails, people would rather buy a new purse or pair of shoes than splurge on a new outfit.

“Accessories are really a feel-good item, and, if priced well, are within the reach of the fashion girl,” said Christine Brown, owner and designer of Jazzd, a handbag maker in San Diego. “It’s important to have designs that give you bang for your buck.”

Especially at a time when raw materials — especially leather and metal — have increased in price. To counter that, Farid Meskin, owner of Lavive Leather in Los Angeles, has scaled back on the use of leather in his bags, and is instead bringing in a soft polyurethane that has the look and feel of leather, but is significantly cheaper.

“If I bring a bag in and put it out for $90, the customer might still buy it,” said Meskin. “But if I can make it somewhere else and use a less expensive fabric and bring it in for less, then I can blow it out.”

He said he has scaled back the use of his leather by about 40 percent, largely as a result of the devaluation of the U.S. dollar, making it much more expensive for him to purchase from South America. As a result, the polyurethane styles he now offers average between $19 and $29 at wholesale, compared with the $59 at wholesale his leather bags would cost.

Across the board, vendors said they are doing their bit to cut back and control their overheads without sacrificing quality. Felicia Goldberg, owner of Felicia Goldberg in New York, agreed that because “price is a big issue right now,” she has had to think about her line differently.

“I try to modify the line in an affordable price point for today’s working woman,” she said, adding that she has had to lay off some staff and “scale down things I can live without.” Still, she said it’s important that the collection — which wholesales between $5 and $70 — always has some new and exciting things.

“It’s about making the extra effort,” she said. “I always call my customers to tell them what’s new and to keep my relationships strong with them. You can’t just assume that people will be there and will show up. You have to work with it.”

Vendors agree that, in addition to value for money, innovation is crucial. At Latico Leathers in Denville, N.J., national sales director Lainie Schreiber said that initial bookings have been strong for a patent-pending hardware recently added to some new wallets from the line, essentially a slot that allows users to slip coins in easily.

Brown at Jazzd said, “Companies that dare to step out of the box” will fare better than those who don’t. “Designers who bring in new products will hold their own,” she continued. “The ones who don’t, who say the economy is bad and they are afraid to try new things — they are the ones that will continue to spiral downwards. If you don’t give your customer something new, why would they buy the same old thing?”

Still, settling at the right price point is crucial. She is scaling back on hardware and actively seeks out less expensive fabrications in cute and fun designs, to offer bags at around $30 wholesale. “The economy is bad,” she said. “People don’t want to spend $200 on a bag anymore.”

And because the economy is in the doldrums, first impressions are everything. Lavive Leather’s Meskin said that fewer retailers come to the shows now, so he has to send high-quality images and samples directly to them.

“I do my best any way I can to get the orders,” he said, adding that he will continue to work the show circuit, even if it means taking smaller booths. He also is embarking on some new advertising and marketing, pitching retailers directly, and offering incentives such as free freight.

“Last year, my business was up 30 percent,” he said. “This year, I’m behind about 20 percent. I’m hoping that I will catch up, but who knows? I will be lucky if I break even this year.”

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