NEW YORK — Vera Bradley is moving out of its sartorial comfort zone of bright, fabric prints, and into the realm of refined leather goods.
The collection comes after financial results for the first quarter of the 2015 fiscal year, released on June 5, revealed that net revenues were down year-over-year ($113.5 million total, compared with $123 million for the prior year). “Sales from existing customers have been relatively stable, but our traditional patterns and products simply are not attracting enough new customers to our brand, and overall traffic is down substantially,” said chief executive officer Robert Wallstrom.
To attract a new customer base, the handbag and accessories brand will offer its first leather and faux-leather goods this fall. “From a design standpoint, we were in a mode where we were doing more and more and more of the same thing,” explained founder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard. “It had become a little routine. Now, this is like starting Vera Bradley all over again.”
Styles include a wristlet, wallet, cross-body, backpack, satchel and tote, and will be initially offered in black, taupe and burnt orange. Prices range from $98 to $298. Faux leather will make up a slightly larger portion of the collection, with two additional styles available, an envelope card case and accordion wallet, as well as more vibrant colors, such as fuchsia, green and cobalt. Faux-leather prices will range from $24 to $138. Launching on Sept. 16, the bags will be available at several retailers, including Dillard’s, Von Maur and Zappos.com, as well as Vera Bradley-owned stores and on verabradley.com
The brand hopes to draw in the young professional consumer, a current blind spot for the company. “We tend to lose the Vera Bradley girl a little bit right out of the college, but when she gets married and has children, we get her back again,” said Bradley Baekgaard. “It’s that range from 21 to 30 that is our target with this.”
Bradley Baekgaard calls upon her employees to provide further insight into making the perfect bag to satisfy the target demographic and beyond. “In our office, we have every age group,” she said. “You can really see what all the young gals, like our interns, are looking for versus what I’m looking for. We have our own little focus group in the company. They are designed for women by women. We carry the prototypes so that we can make changes and tweak until the very last minute. The fact that we carry them, the function is always perfect.”
The collection follows the brand’s disclosure that it will now be carried in select Macy’s locations (though the leather goods will not be carried in the department store initially). “We’re the fourth-largest handbag company in the United States,” said Bradley Baekgaard. “However, prior to this, we weren’t in department stores, and we know that 50 percent of the women who are looking for handbags first go to department stores. When that opportunity opened for us, we felt that this was the right time [for leather].”
While the brand’s focus is concentrated on the new goods, those still yearning for Vera Bradley’s signature colorful prints need not worry. “We do not plan to walk away from the prints,” said Bradley Baekgaard. “That is truly our heritage and I think we do it really well.”