OUT OF THE BAG
SMALL LEATHER GOODS HAVE EVOLVED, WITH THE EMPHASIS ON “SMALL.”
Byline: Wendy Hessen
NEW YORK — The trend toward smaller, sleeker handbags has challenged small leather goods makers to get creative in providing retailers with items that fit in — literally — and still meet consumer’s high demand for function.
Further buoyed by an influx of interest in new materials and color, the classification is hitting stores with more new product than it has in years.
Elements of a strong assortment include:
Functions that are spread across a series of little pieces, instead of being piled into one large piece.
Clutch, bar bag and wrist bag styles.
Items that have multiple purposes.
Materials ranging from shiny, sleek spazzolato leather, or ombred patent leather to coated canvas, leather-trimmed microfiber or the sportiest nylon.
“No one wants a wallet that looks like a battleship anymore,” said Carol Hochman, president fashion accessories at Liz Claiborne. “Now, consumers want items with the least bulk before loading them up.
“The whole small leather goods business is changing. Even traditional pieces need to be lighter, slimmer and sleeker. Dual function is also key.”
Katie Jones, director of women’s small leather goods at Westport Corp., producers of the licensed Kenneth Cole collection, agreed.
“Capacity or function as well as quality are the two key trends now,” she said. “We’ve been working at getting the maximum capacity in the smallest space. It’s important for handbags to have all the fashion elements, but small leather goods have to transcend all those statements because people don’t change their wallets all that often. The exception is when women need a grab-and-go wallet.”
Grab-and-go items are a major force for the category now. Vendors say a lot of women just grab their wallet out of a bigger bag or tote and run out for lunch from the office. Those pieces have to be small enough either to fit in a pocket or to be clutched in the hand. On weekends, many want small bags that carry just the essentials for a night out — keys, lipstick, cash and maybe a credit card and driver’s license. Some leather goods firms are even making diminutive handbags for just that purchase, obscuring the lines between the two classifications.
“There is a blurring between small leather goods and bags going on, creating pieces that are sort of a hybrid of the two — a key fob with places for cash and a lipstick, for example,” said Reed Krakoff, senior vice president and executive creative director of Coach and Mark Cross.
“People who are paying more for bags are also interested in getting the most versatility out of the small leather goods they buy — like a coin purse that can double as a lipstick holder, or a cosmetic pouch that can function as a clutch,” noted Robin Satty, merchandise manager at Manetti Farrow, producers of the Echo licensed line of small leather goods and distributors of Fendi’s line. “For this category, the novelty aspect is more in terms of function rather than materials or shape.”
Although many vendors see an opportunity for the mega-purpose organizers to come back, most agreed that the new versions will be much more pared down and devoid of the “everything but the kitchen sink” mentality that drove the category before.
Claiborne’s Hochman said those bags will have less function on the outside and be less utilitarian-looking.
Others said they will be smaller, sleeker and won’t always be worn with a shoulder strap or around the waist. Many will have top handles, be clutches or have single wrist handles, the latter being the most sophisticated and reminiscent of the bags carried by men in the Eighties.
And although there is a segment of the population that will want these pieces in casual nylons or other fabrics, there is also demand for better and even luxury-quality leathers. Shiny, modern spazzolato leather started appearing last fall and is expected to continue for some time. Even microfibers are being upgraded or have more finished details, like leather trim or better hardware.
Hochman said she still believes leather will always play an important role in small leather goods. She also noted that customers are responding to newness quickly, citing the current high demand for materials, especially, nylon, which she characterized as being “on fire in all areas.”
Coach’s Krakoff added, “The advancement — and acceptance — of nylon has made people aware of how light nylon can be, so we’re also working on some lighter-weight leathers.”