By  on April 11, 2007

Action sports and surf accessories are not all about floral canvas totes anymore.As contemporary and young contemporary brands elevated the fashion bar for clothing in the surf sector, they have prodded manufacturers to reconsider what girls carry to the beach. The trend is epitomized by Gold Digga, Fox Head's boxy fake leather handbag. It became the top seller across all categories for the Morgan Hill, Calif.-based motocross apparel company after a chilly reception from surf and action sports store buyers last year."It was a big surprise," said Tiana Becker, juniors merchandising manager for Fox. "We are offering products that are actually fashionable and getting customers that we never thought we had....The industry as a whole has come a long way. It is no longer a boardshorts business. The same goes for accessories."For fall and next spring, surf and action sports firms are producing chic handbags with decorative hardware, sharp accents and costlier materials to set them apart from traditional surf bags. But the real change can be summed up by the look: an edgier aesthetic is creeping into handbag shelves at surf stores. Although handbags in the surf and action sports sector are bargains by designer handbag standards, the new bags may cost as much as $100 in stores in an accessories market dominated by bags in the $10 and $20 retail range. Encouraged by the Gold Digga, which retails for around $40, Fox is developing a limited edition $100 handbag for spring 2008. The company expects to produce six styles retailing for more than $40 for spring, double the amount it typically releases above that price tag.Retailer PacSun's customers will get a taste of the pricier bags in fall with an $88 snakeskin purse dubbed the Platinum Deluxe. Another key Fox entry for fall is the Paparazzi, a round bag that retails for $46 and has custom logo snaps and rivets. Dakine, known for its practical packs and luggage, is putting its toes in the higher-end market as well. The Bond Street Collection of the Hood River, Ore.-based company features a roomy shoulder bag called the Jessica that has antique brass hardware, heavy zippers, vinyl trim and cotton lining. Retailing for $50, double Dakine's average price for girls' bags, the Jessica has been picked up by skate and snowboard retailer Zumiez."We needed more fun stuff because sporty girls carry cute bags," said Leslie Pyfer, Dakine's product line manager for girls' packs and bags. At the surf and skate apparel maker Split in Irvine, Calif., a group of cotton herringbone accessories with patent leather trim has gotten a positive response from buyers, designer Jamie Reese said. The collection's Lindsay messenger retails for $42, its smaller Nicole bag for $39 and a wallet for $24. Split accessories are made under license by August Accessories. "It worked this time around to make it more sophisticated, where it could be a girl going to high school or a 27-year-old going to work," Reese said of the fall offerings. The sophistication is a break with Split's perennial floral cotton tote bestseller.Reese has ventured further in the fashion direction, featuring an allover patent leather accessories group with a $44 backpack and $39 shoulder bag. The riskier group has not been as well received as the patent trimmed group, she said, but has found an audience with one fashion-forward contingent: Split's men's skate team's has requested the gray patent packs.Motorcycle apparel maker Alpinestars, an Italian company with U.S. headquarters in Torrance, Calif., has thrust into the girls' accessories market with about 30 accessories per season. A $50 quilted bag in gold, an important color for Alpinestars' accessories, is a standout in the fall lineup. Eroding the dominance that behemoths Roxy, O'Neill and Billabong have over the classic beach tote is difficult, so smaller brands like Alpinestars may have little choice but to produce splashier products. Board sports clothing brand Ezekiel is among the pioneers in getting retailers to carve out shelf space for its trend-driven accessories, including a quilted Manhattan bag that costs about $50 retail.Another strategy to make headway in the surf accessories market is to avoid the Roxy girl because this preteen or teen shopper may not be mature enough for fashion-forward pieces, but could grow out of Roxy's logo-emblazoned totes as she ages. That's where a brand like Split comes in. "Our stuff sits next to Roxy for the younger girl, [but] a bag of ours is suitable for a wider range of ages," Reese said.There are advantages to stylish handbags. Because Fox's handbags are not specific to surf or action sports, Becker said they have gotten a hearing from retailers such as Macy's West. She added that international buyers are less hesitant than domestic surf store buyers to take a chance on merchandise. But leaping into the fashionable slice of the surf and action sports accessories market has its perils. Although she is convinced customers will pay for Fox's handbags in the $60 and $70 range, Becker said domestic surf store buyers are often not "ready for the price points." Even before buyers are involved, Reese discovered that making higher-priced bags sometimes is not worth the hassle. For spring 2006, Split introduced a linen bag with sequin trim that retailed for $59. Sequins were placed on the bags by hand, causing manufacturing times to be longer than for the brands' inexpensive, mass-produced bags. Split discontinued the sequined item.

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