In spite of the economic and political woes of the past few years, the accessories market has been booming, as evidenced by the 84 new accessories resources exhibiting at WWDMAGIC this week. One reason for this is that today’s fashion-savvy but budget-strapped customers are more anxious than ever to hop on the latest trends, and often the most cost-effective way to update a wardrobe is with an of-the-moment bag or brooch.
“It’s all the time — even when the market is depressed, people still buy jewelry,” said Janet Winchell, chief executive officer of jewelry brand Bella Sole, “but it has to be within the right price point.”
She noted that her pieces in semiprecious stones and crystals, which wholesale from $3 to $450, perform well in part because of the strong trend in color, but also because of their broad price range.
The success of the accessories market, however, could be considered a double-edged sword: As it becomes a higher-volume category, more designers are drawn into the market, driving up competition.
And these days, it can take very little to compete. With the growing presence of digital cameras at trade shows, Winchell noted, “The stuff is being copied and made before the show is even over.”
Still, she conceded, “There is room out there for everybody — it just depends on who you are targeting. You have to work closely with your buyers to get a sense of what people want.”
Kira Prazak, office manager of New York-based brand Carolina Amato, agreed that listening to retailers is the best way to stay ahead. The company manufactures shawls, wraps, ponchos, gloves, hats and scarves that wholesale from $18 to $200.
Ponchos are a key accessory for fall going into spring, and Carolina Amato will offer them in velvet and silks for holiday and linen and gauze for spring. But with such a trendy product, how does a firm make sure that its style stands out for buyers?
“Our shape is different than any other shape,” Prazak said. “It’s open at the sleeves, and the long triangle silhouette draws attention away from the waist. We also use unique details like buttons and bows.”Another factor that Prazak said puts the company ahead is its flexibility with deliveries. “We’re able to offer closer deliveries, and we don’t mind holding deliveries for three months,” Prazak said, adding that about half of the firm’s goods are produced domestically, and half overseas.
“Retailers are buying closer to delivery dates because they’re not sure what’s going to happen, mostly for financial reasons, but also for political reasons, with what’s going on in the world these days.”
International security has increased, but most companies have anticipated this and don’t foresee major problems with goods being held up in Customs.
“Security is tighter, but it’s smoother,” Prazak said. “It’s more organized, because they’re being more rigorous. It will take longer to get goods, but we’re prepared.”
Dorfman Pacific Inc., the Stockton, Calif.-based headwear company, increased its storage depot to 275,000 square feet in order to increase its in-season inventory.
“We are jumping on trends much quicker,” said Art Gardner, senior vice president of sales and marketing. He added that pink, blue, red and purple are important colors right now, and men’s wear fabrics like tweed and styles like fedoras will be popular.
THE COLOR OF MONEY
Handbag company Hobo International in Annapolis, Md., plays up practicality to attract buyers. For holiday and spring, double-frame wallets can also be carried as a clutch, and some have drop-in straps that turn them into shoulder purses.
Though color is an important element in the collection, Martha Radford, a designer for the brand, is looking a step ahead.
“It’s incredible how color is driving the business. We felt that strongly a year ago, but we don’t see any sign of that letting up,” she said. “But for spring we’re looking at a more sophisticated neutral color palette, because we think there’s a customer who’s tired of screaming brights.”
Maintaining price points is also a concern among vendors. “You have to be consistently working at keeping your prices at the bridge level,” Radford continued. “You have to look to further sourcing and come up with a great idea and find a way to do it for less.” Hobo bags wholesale from $29.50 to $85.NAME RECOGNITION
Los Angeles-based brand Surly Girl works the celebrity angle to hold its own in the increasingly crowded market. Britney Spears took three bags on her short-lived European tour, and Nicole Ritchie, Kathy Hilton and Rachel Hunter have been seen with the bags as well. “[Having celebrities wear your bags] helps sell, especially here, where the boutiques have seen everything,” said designer Alison Muh.
Muh, a former investment banker, tries to sustain a signature look in the collection, which wholesales from $65 to $200. “You want to be able to look across the room and not see a big logo stamped all over the bag, but still be able to tell whose it is. If I spend $400 on a bag, I want people to know which brand it is,” she said.
Colors like hot pink, black and turquoise play prominently throughout, and silhouettes are focused on larger totes and briefcase styles for career-minded customers. Rhinestone buckles jazz up the pieces, and an evening collection is in the works for holiday.
Still, Muh has noticed retailers are buying closer to deliveries, which she thinks works to her advantage, as all her bags are made in Los Angeles. “The fast turnaround helps us stay competitive,” she said. “Everybody wants it yesterday.”
However, Audree Halasz, designer and owner of Dutchy Bags in San Francisco, is actually looking to start manufacturing abroad so she can continue to offer affordable products. “I’m looking to get things made overseas. Being able to keep my price point down but still offer funky high-end bags will be a key aspect,” she said. Her wholesale prices range from $50 to $145.
Halasz will add 12 new styles to her collection for spring, bringing a total of 18 to market. WWDMAGIC will be the first major trade show for Dutchy Bags, which is named after Halasz’ father’s childhood nickname.
TAKING CARE OF BASICS
At Kipling North America, continued growth is all about finding a balance between the basics people need and the trendy items that drive purchases among both buyers and consumers. “It can’t all be fashion and it can’t all be basic, so what’s the magic mix?” asked Georgia Grant, vice president and general manager of Kipling.She added that although stores bought immediates during the August market week in New York, “They come to MAGIC looking for spring direction.”
The brand will offer bags from $18 to $90 wholesale in bright colors like pink, turquoise and lime green. Key prints will be nautical motifs and a muted camouflage.
Grant said it’s important to work closely with buyers to help support their basics business, but also to encourage them to feel confident with more fashion looks.
“Our challenge is how to get retailers to display that [mix] optimally so the customer sees there’s new product and comes back into the store.”
When the main floor is full with product, as it is these days, competing for customers is a challenge. But Grant is confident in Kipling’s strategy. “One, stay true to the customer base, and don’t abandon them for the next trend. Two, make sure how you interpret the trends is going to follow the brand,” she said. “Color and print direction should stay true to what your brand means. Don’t lose yourself in a trend, because when the trend is over, your bottom falls out.”
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