Accessories vendors are leaping into new categories to fuel growth.Accessories are staying their usual stable course, as the economic slowdown and terrorist jitters feed consumers’ need for the small and often less expensive pleasures in life.Amid an increasingly competitive accessories landscape, creating the right mix of freshness, marketing and price points helps companies land their products on retailers’ counter space."Accessories is very competitive and changes too quickly," Judy McDonald, the designer at Baldwin Park, Calif.-based Far Nine Accessories said. "You just have to have a new design and come out with something fresh to offer customers. That’s how you stay ahead." Overall, vendors are looking for ways to kick more life into the category, as well as meet customer demand for vintage and novelty items. Firms are employing a number of strategies to build their businesses, from expanding existing lines and lowering price points to growing distribution. A number of companies said they are also branching out into new products for growth."During trying economic times, accessories are an inexpensive way to alter a look," said Bryan Gage with World End Imports, based in Cape May, N.J. The company, which sells trendy, fashion and costume jewelry and accessories, scarves and handbags, said business has been good and should be even better as it expands into the must-have item of the fall — belts — as well as turquoise and coral necklaces. Jenny Williams, market director at Dallas-based Barse & Co., agreed, saying the economic climate has helped business as people are not as apt to spend on high-end lines. "Business is doing phenomenally," Williams said. "I think the popularity of turquoise has driven sales." To keep the momentum, she said Barse will focus on building its brand by investing in advertising and working with retailers at the direct marketing level. Orlando-based K.C. Malhan is positioning its beaded, sequined or embroidered bags as an inexpensive way to improve a wardrobe."We specialize in evening and special occasion bags,"said the creative director and president Devinder J. Singh, who added that given the present economic doldrums, women are more likely to update an outfit with accessories than buy a new one altogether."Our product is designed so she can buy the handbag with a black dress and that equals an outfit." She said business has been "incredible, with sales doubling from last year."To help drive sales, the company dropped prices 25 to 30 percent from last fall. In addition, she said K.C. Malhan may introduce a cotton-stretch dress collection in January 2003 that’s being given a trial run in a Florida Nicole Miller store.Faye Lim, vice president of Benfay Wearable Art, which is based in Los Angeles and offers handmade vintage-looking handbags and scarfs, said business for the two-year-old firm has been good. Consistent sellers are handbags embellished with crystals and semiprecious stones. They range in price from $45 to $150 wholesale."Now is a good time to be in accessories," Lim said. "People do not have to spend a lot of money to change a look."Another reason she is looking forward to the upcoming season: "People need excitement with what is going on in the world and accessories provide that."Some accessories categories are poised for a strong year, as the fashion winds shift and old product segments become interesting again. Hats, for example, which started picking up speed last year, is a key focus for many vendors.One such vendor is Hat Shack/Hat Sack, a five-year-old company based in San Marcos, Calif. Said owner Jeanne Marcus, "Our products are becoming more known," thanks to a good product mix. This year, she’ll introduce a chenille tweed hat for winter formerly offered in cotton and paper. The company is also expanding into scarves, gloves and bags. Another product category that has seen no slowdown isleather. Paul Schreiber, owner of Latisco, a leather company based in Denville, N.J., described business as "fantastic." He attributes robust sales to new design in its collections of handbags, backpacks and briefcases. Wholesale prices range between $19 to $59. "Design is driving the business, more than brand," he said. "If you put in a little flair to make the item different, but in good taste and priced with value, it will sell." He said contrast stitch groups, items that are classically casual, but with contrast stitch are selling well. Another area of growth this year is to come from the beauty arena as consumers’ have the need to feel good in trying times, but at more affordable prices.Stephanie Sakoff, president and creative director at Lucky Chick/Heavy Duty said her three-year old business is doing great as buyers are buying deeper into lines and experimenting with lesser-known labels instead of sticking with the tried-and-true brands. "Retailers are getting behind the brand to make a splash with it," Sakoff said. In addition, Lucky Chick will introduce a body mist and bubble bath with extracts of fresh strawberries, mangos and melons highlighted. The Pearl River, N.Y.-company just introduced a sugar body scrub priced at $22 and a peppermint sugar foot scrub with avocado oil and peppermint.

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