Heading into the all-important b-t-s period, junior accessories firms are branching out with additional lines, expanded distribution and new categories.

The junior accessories market is busily gearing up for the back-to-school selling season, the category’s most important time of the year.

From denim backpacks to newsboy hats, accessories of all sorts have become a critical part of the b-t-s wardrobe for many teens.

While the retail scene has been challenging for fashion firms, accessories, particularly those targeting fashionistas-in-training, has been relatively immune to the industry’s economic woes.

"Juniors is a great market to be in," said Alissa Kramer, a co-owner of Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Twinsies, which makes toe rings. "Teens know a lot more about fashion than most adults and accessories are a safe area to be in. It’s not that committal."

The category is also getting more space with teen-savvy retailers, such as Pembroke Pines, Fla.-based Claire’s Stores Inc. and New York-based Delia’s Corp. Delia’s, which is best known for its apparel offerings, has expanded its offerings of jewelry, handbags and other accessories, said Gideon Walter, the company’s senior vice president and general merchandise manager.

Joe Ferucci, owner of New York-based jewelry brand UcciCucci, said: "We are a small company and we like it that way. The stores we are in, such as Urban Outfitters and Hot Topic, we are doing well with and we have a real connection to our buyers. We are looking forward to a successful back-to-school season since we are stocking trendy items such as single earrings and punk looks inspired by Kelly Osbourne."

Much of the trend action in recent months has been fueled by novelty items such as oversized earrings, thick belts and even cell phone accessories, such as charm bracelets that hang off a phone. For b-t-s, trends are focused on romantic and ladylike looks, bright colors and bohemian styles. Asian-inspired looks are also drawing attention.

On the business front, firms are using a wide range of strategies to grow their businesses this year. Here are some growth strategies companies are using heading into the fall buying season:

THE MORE, THE MERRIER: While the economy has been tough, vendors aren’t shying away from launching divisions and product categories.

Ahead Headgear, based in New Bedford, Mass., for example, has started a new sporty division called Kate Lord, which wholesales between $15 and $25. "Ahead is known within the golf community and we just were looking for something different with Kate Lord," said director of sales Tim Miller. "This division is a mix of sport and fashion styles."

The line’s moniker comes from the wife of the company’s art director, Chuck Lord. While the couple was on vacation, Kate Lord was searching for a hat and couldn’t find what she wanted, and he began to sketch designs — from there, the division was launched.

San Francisco’s Deborah Lewis, a former dancer who has also dabbled in interior design, has launched an eponymous collection of handbags and parasols in colors such as pink, mint green and orange. Despite an increasingly crowded market, Lewis said the retail floor can sustain a newcomer. "Accessories is the area to be in," said Jonathan Lewis, Deborah’s husband and business partner. He added that the company is concentrating on selling to specialty and department stores. Wholesale prices for the line range from $85 to $275.

Another newcomer to the junior accessories arena is Dollhouse, which will premiere a line produced by O.K. Originals, a 23-year-old New York-based firm best known for its private label junior offerings. "This license gives us another avenue to develop our business," said Peter Kaplan, vice president of O.K. Originals. The jewelry wholesales from $1.25 to $3.50 and features trendy looks, such as as silver necklaces with a large heart, rose pendant necklaces, beaded bracelets, chandelier earrings and leather, studded cuffs.

Kaplan said the company was also looking forward to doing more marketing under the Dollhouse banner. "We are happy to be a part of their marketing efforts since Dollhouse does a lot of advertising for their product line," Kaplan said.

STYLE AND SUBSTANCE: While junior accessories are typically known for being trendy and quirky, the perception that the quality of the pieces is lacking, has been a problem. But in an age when teens are snapping up Tiffany & Co. jewelry and Kate Spade handbags, some companies are upgrading their materials to cater to sophisticated teen shoppers. "We believe juniors are looking for something a little better," said Ahead Headgear’s Miller.Deborah Lewis agreed that offering high-quality products is crucial, and boasted: "My bags are made from fine doupioni silk and Italian leather," she said.

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