LONDON — A host of new European and Turkish handbag labels are firmly establishing their presence among British and continental retailers and aiming to lure consumers with attractive price points and discreet aesthetics that aren’t informed by seasonal trends or logos.
Instead, these brands are putting the focus on producing well-crafted products and modernist designs.
Istanbul-based label Manu Atelier, designed by sisters Merve and Beste Manastir, is one of the brands in growth mode. The company is best known for its boxy Pristine bags and handcrafted products. The sisters’ father, a leather goods manufacturer and craftsman who’s been in the business for more than 55 years, still cuts the patterns for every bag in the collection.
After generating buzz through social media, the brand went on to build a retail network with stockists such as Harrods, Selfridges and Net-a-porter. Its latest partnership is with Browns, where sell-through was more than 80 percent following the launch.
The brand is also making its first steps in the U.S. It started selling on Stylebop.com and Opening Ceremony earlier this year and is planning a launch with Saks Fifth Avenue.
As reported, the trend for midprice designer accessories has already been on the rise in the U.S. with the emergence of labels such as Staud by Carolina Santo Domingo, Amélie Pichard and Paige Elkington. It’s now starting to spread its way through Europe, as new niche brands such as Mehry Mu and Yuzefi are entering the market and forging partnerships with key U.K. retailers.
“Once upon a time the contemporary market was dominated by the likes of Marc by Marc Jacobs and Michael Michael Kors,” said Lisa Aiken, Net-a-porter’s retail fashion director. “Now women are looking for more under-the-radar brands that can offer something different.”
She pointed to the success of Manu Atelier and Simon Miller, the latter of which sold more than 500 units during its launch earlier this year.
Building on this success, Net-a-porter is continuing to source more under-the-radar handbag labels. Some of its key launches for fall include Danse Lente, a London-based label known for its graphic hardware and the Volon, recognized for its sleek, multicolored shoulder bags
Another Istanbul-based label that has been gaining market traction is Mehry Mu, known for its feminine, artisanal designs.
The label, which was founded by Gunes Mutlu, already has an established audience in the designer’s native Turkey and is now expanding internationally, with launches at London stores including the Shop at Bluebird, Browns and Fenwick.
Mutlu said that having a thriving business in Turkey has made it easier to produce more for new markets despite the depreciation of the Turkish lira against the dollar and increased costs.
She identified the Fay bag, a rectangular tote, as one of her signatures and has dedicated it to her daughter, who bears the same name.
The Fay is always updated with different colors and textures, ranging from shearling to bamboo. For her upcoming fall collection, Mutlu used rich textures and colors such as lush red, navy and emerald velvet.
The tambourine, a smaller, more playful cross-body style that is embellished with pom-poms, is another key style.
Prices range from $360 to $497.
The designer has been working with the London-based fashion consultant and showroom owner Maria Kastani to refine sales and marketing strategies as the brand expands globally.
Kastani said she has a high-end vision for the brand, but maintaining contemporary price points is equally important.
“There is certainly a gap in the market for contemporary prices with a high-end look. Consumers are now looking to shop in a clever way, so there needs to be both an emotional and a commercial connection with the product,” she said.
Mehry Mu is taking a “curatorial” approach, according to Kastani, launching with a small, eclectic group of retail partners and introducing a small selection of new styles every season.
London-based Yuzefi also made its debut at Browns alongside Mehry Mu earlier this month and the retailer is already planning a relaunch due to high sell-throughs. The label was founded by the designer Naza Yuzefi, who has a background in women’s ready-to-wear. She fell into handbag-making by chance when working on a leather project.
Some of the brand’s most popular styles include structured bucket bags featuring signature round-shaped gold hardware. Prices range between 365 pounds to 485 pounds.
“This is the price point everybody is looking for now. Customers are more aware of what they can get and for what price,” said Yusefi. “We are trying to do things quite differently. Not only supporting the manufacturers, but also selling things that are priced fairly.”
Yuzefi bags are entirely made in the U.K. but as the brand grows, some of the production could be moved to Spain, according to the designer.
Yuzefi also pointed to the importance of establishing a balance between signature, evergreen styles and newness. “What we want to show to the customer is that we can continuously innovate our aesthetic while also using those recognizable elements. I want customers to have that excitement about what the next big thing will be.”
Montunas is another recently launched label. Hailing from Costa Rica, it shares a similar philosophy and pricing strategy to the other brands.
Founded by former model Elke Ruge with daughters Amanda and Elena Hawila, the brand offers three classic styles including two totes and a bucket bag. It launched on Moda Operandi and at Alex Eagle in April.
The designers have been basing their decisions on personal needs and have chosen styles that they had already been producing in Costa Rica for their own use: “It’s about travel, utility and elegance,” said the Hawila sisters in a joint interview.
When determining their pricing strategy, they also looked at what they felt they were missing on a personal level.
“Montunas is about being down to earth, so we were not interested in ultra-high price points. However, we are a classic brand creating products that will last. So the quality and therefore price points had to be of a certain standard,” said Amanda.
Elena added that many consumers have found themselves “left behind” by the luxury market as it becomes increasingly expensive. “There is an interesting vacuum between affordable luxury and ultra-luxury that we felt was the perfect place for us and our woman.”
They said they want to continue working with a small selection of wholesale partners, whom they see as “a major force in seeding and marketing the products,” but added that they will ultimately work towards establishing a predominantly straight-to-consumer model.