By and  on February 3, 2009

With a new year at hand, as well as a new President looking to revive the economy, exhibitors heading to the MAGIC trade shows in Las Vegas are fairly optimistic. A majority recently finished the New York accessories shows in early January and said the events have exceeded expectations.

Carolina Amato, an accessories designer with a specialty in cold-weather items and gloves, said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the business she did in New York. She is bringing to WWDMAGIC a new line of scarves with jeweled clusters, retailing from $90 to $110.

“It’s like with the Accessorie Circuit, I didn’t expect very much but did reasonably well, and I think it will be the same in Las Vegas,” Amato said. “Retailers are coming off a disappointing holiday season, so we are grateful and happy for any business we get. I didn’t expect much, but I am happy with the business we did do. Our customers are cutting back, but they are looking and shopping and are enthusiastic about what they see. They’re either buying or planning to buy. After all, they have to have a full store.”

Doug Stein, founder of accessories firm Mad by Design is also upbeat. The firm’s big focus for the spring season is eco-friendly bamboo handbags, as well as a line featuring embossed crocodile bags in pastel colors.

“I always try to think positively,” Stein said. “Traffic was a bit down at the New York shows, but I think most of it was due to it being so close to New Year’s Eve. But I also think the media has overblown how poorly retail is doing. I don’t think people had as bad a holiday season as the news portrays. We had a great year, and I think the companies who stay focused on moving forward and offering new styles will be the ones ahead when the dust settles.”

Echo Design is launching its cold-weather collection at the show, including mufflers, hats and an expanded glove line with new colors. The firm is banking on its solid history in the cold weather category to carry it through the trade show.

“As long as we see the same customers at the show, we’ll be satisfied,” said account manager Abby Walton. “We’re aware of what’s happening in the economy, and people won’t be spending the same amount as in previous years, but if they’re still seeing us and still writing the line, we’ll be happy. In the past, people have been more conservative in their initial buys and want to know about the possibility of reorder, so I think they’re going to play it that way — see what’s selling and then get back in, instead of having a lot of inventory up front.”

Betsy Spain, a jewelry designer based in Gainesville, Fla., is showing at WWDMAGIC for the first time. She expects her classic gemstone necklaces, which are suited for layering, to be a strong seller there. The pieces are also designed to layer against separate pieces from other designers as well, which make for an easy purchase. Each of Spain’s pieces — earrings, necklaces and bracelets — wholesales from $40 to $178.

“I am very confident in my collection — and with the right set of buyers, I think it will sell,” Spain said. “My concern is that the economy is not doing great, and it depends on the buyers attending, who is the demographic, the target audience. I am trying to manage my expectations, but they are reasonably high. People are buying and people have customers who aren’t terribly affected. I have a number of retailers that way.”

Dakota Watch Company is another brand coming to the show for the first time. The 60-year-old firm has only gotten into the wholesale game in the last eight years, and is now focusing on its fashion distribution. In the past, it has done travel goods and outdoor trade shows exclusively. Mandy Dabbelt, account and marketing manager, said she is bringing ladies’ watches in the $40 retail range, as well as a line of key-chain charm clocks. She is also showcasing the brand’s outdoor line, where the watches also double as flashlights, knives, compasses and bottle openers.

“We are doing two booths — one in the outdoor section that coincides with our main market, and we’re also placing a booth in the women’s section to access two very different customers,” Dabbelt said. “We feel there are some customers at WWDMAGIC we won’t reach at other shows, and we are ready to take that shot.”

Several firms are launching new lines as well as secondary brands with lower price points to offer something fresh and affordable to consumers. Sondra Roberts is introducing a lower-priced, all-leather line of handbags at the show. The bags will have an average retail of $200, compared with $250 to $550 for the brand’s signature styles.

“People still want a beautiful leather bag, but they’re trading down in terms of price,” said company president Glenn Camche. “Buyers are cautious, but they are still buying.”

Camche noted that totes, hobos and satchels have been performing well, and that evening bag sales have slowed a bit but continue to be an important element of the business for the New York-based brand.

The Fort Wayne, Ind.-based accessories firm Vera Bradley is introducing several new collections, including the Bali and Calypso lines, which have an island feel, with prints in blue and gold. The firm, known for its colorful and feminine prints, is also launching eyewear and stationery at the show.

“Vera Bradley is always optimistic,” said Melissa Cordial, a spokeswoman for the firm. “We’re always looking for ways to incorporate new trends.” Vera Bradley is sold at 3,500 doors plus the firm’s 22 stand-alone boutiques across the country.

Nicole Lee executive director Curtis Yoo has been working on a lower-priced line called Suzie Lee, while Callanan by Dorfman Pacific is showing several new collections of headwear, including men’s wear-inspired ivy caps, hats with gothic-inspired hardware and a range of tweed caps in earth tones.

Senior director John Callanan said he was feeling positive, noting the firm had a strong showing at AccessoriesTheShow last month.

Scarf firm V. Fraas is continuing to push its JL by V. Fraas scarf collection for fall in embroidered knits, chunky cables and woven jacquards that create optical effects. Colors include a purple story as well as a blue-green series.

Angela Schuster of Maruca design said the company has added price breaks on accessories in 10-packs. “I’m optimistic to a point,” she said, “but I think going in with low expectations is safest right now.”

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