After 88 years of selling practically every accessory but handbags, The Echo Design Group is finally dipping its toe into the market with a new collection for spring.

This story first appeared in the August 1, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“When you have an 88-year history, you have a Chinese sense of time,” said company chief executive officer Steven Roberts, who explained the new handbag collection, which will hit stores in February, nods to Echo’s focus on print, pattern and color.

Founded in 1923 as a scarf company, Echo has since expanded into categories such as swimwear, home, outerwear and cold-weather accessories. According to Roberts, whose grandfather started the company, the latest addition is meant to fill a “white space” in the market.

That space is a nonleather, moderately priced ($78 to $128) one that mixes functionality with fashion.

“No one needs another leather brand,” Roberts said. “We come from a textile base. It’s a softer world.”

The company’s heritage, combined with the success of the beach bag collection it has produced for a few years, have been key drivers in the creation of the handbag line, the ceo said. He declined to disclose Echo’s sales, but said he expects the new collection to account for between 10 and 15 percent of revenues in the next few years.

Inspired by its scarves, tribal influences and animal prints, the bags mix new materials like cotton based coated lightweight fabrics with textured piping and “pops of color,” said Clare Schultheis, managing director of handbags, who stressed the opportunity to grab market share.

The first collection will contain 45 different units, and will include hobos, cross body bags, shoulder bags, flap messenger bags, north-south totes and large square totes.

The bags will appear in many of the same stores that carry the Echo brand now, including Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s and Dillard’s.

“There’s a very varied customer who would like this [collection],” said Schultheis, noting that while the bag’s reasonable price point gives it a leg up on competitors like Coach and Marc by Marc Jacobs, it’s “not always about price.”

“You just have to give the customer a lot of things to love about the product,” she said.

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