NEW YORK--Licensed accessories are turning into a hot ticket for some of the mass market's biggest apparel names. Firms with roots in the jeanswear business--Gitano, Bonjour, Jordache, Chic by H.I.S. and Sasson--are projecting increases as high as 50 percent in accessories for this year over last. Industry sources estimated branded goods to account for as much as 60 percent of all accessories carried at the mass market level. In terms of strategy, executives from all firms surveyed agreed that keeping a consistent image--whether in the accessories line itself or through both apparel and accessories--helps them sell everything from handbags to umbrellas. Several firms are also moving their licenses from smaller vendors to leading manufacturers in the mass market business. "We're trying to create a synergy between all our products," said Eddie Albert, vice president of licensing for Gitano. According to Albert, accessories account for the majority of Gitano's licensed products and are projected to post gains in the high single digits. This fall, the company will push the "total look" in accessories at retail by merchandising everything--handbags, belts, fashion watches and jewelry, hair accessories, sunglasses and rainwear--with matching hangtags, as well as packaging and point-of-purchase material that explains the concept to shoppers. The company recently conducted a series of focus groups to determine how consumers perceive Gitano as a complete fashion brand, Albert said. "Although apparel is still the driving force with the brand, it became clear in the studies that consumers have come to accept Gitano as a multi-product and independent label," he noted. Handbags and small leather goods are currently Gitano's top accessories classifications, Albert said. They are being produced by Accessory Network, a major mass market multi-classification producer. As reported, this license was transferred last month from the handbag company Mitzi International to Accessory Network. Gitano is now looking to bolster its sunglasses business in a similar manner, having recently switched its license from International Eyewear and Accessories Inc. to Bonneau Co., a major mass market eyewear manufacturer. At Bonjour, the company's efforts are concentrated on coordinating licensed products with sportswear, both in terms of fashion concepts and delivery schedules, according to Lucia Almquist, vice president of accessories and intimate apparel licensing. As Almquist pointed out, the company's goal is to generate multiple retail sales by appealing to consumers who want to wear Bonjour from head to toe. Accessories are projected to grow by 50 percent, she noted, and currently account for about 25 percent of Bonjour's total business. Almquist noted that handbags and fashion jewelry are the two areas of strength right now in Bonjour's accessories. Two other companies, Jordache and Chic, point to strong performances in their core jeanswear businesses as the reason behind brisk accessories business. "We've seen a lot of interest in licensing in the last five months, and the fact that we've had a very profitable year in jeans has only served to boost the Jordache name and our licensing business as well," said Allen Wollins, director of licensing for Jordache, which is projecting double-digit increases in accessories. Wollins said Jordache plans to announce several new licenses in the next few months, most likely in costume jewelry and handbags. Currently on the roster are luggage, tote bags, briefcases, fashion watches, scarves, ear muffs, knit accessories, small leather goods and optical frames. He added that the firm plans to kick off a print and television campaign later this month that will run through the end of the year, which is expected to spur business across all Jordache merchandise categories. John Kulacz, director of licensing at Chic, said his firm's high market share in jeans has helped drive accessories sales recently, and he projected increases as high as 30 percent this year. Kulacz added that the company has also made an effort to realign its accessories licenses by bringing on leading vendors such as Accessory Network, which signed as Chic's handbag licensee earlier this year. Previously, Kulacz noted, some of the firm's accessories licensees had been smaller companies "looking to the Chic name to grow their own names." Meanwhile, at Sasson, the accessories licensing program was recently restructured, and the firm has seen major growth in fashion jewelry, small leather goods and fashion watches as a result of working with new licensees, said Stephen Wayne, chief executive officer and exclusive licensing agent. With a new licensee, Accessory Network, Sasson is looking to triple its handbag business, Wayne noted. Overall, he said his firm expects to surpass $100 million in wholesale accessories volume this year. Sasson will also seek to grow business in accessories beyond U.S. borders, Wayne said, through its recent signing of a master license for all accessories categories in Canada. It's also about to complete licensing agreements in Mexico, where Sasson currently sells apparel, and has an eye toward expansion in Europe, China and India.
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