Byline: Amanda Meadus

After two discouraging, if not downright depressing years, accessories makers are finally breaking out.
The grunge and minimalism periods are not particularly bright spots in the annals of accessories, and vendors were faced with the grim reality of nearly accessories-less runway shows and magazine spreads. In some industries, such as belts and jewelry, the spare and simple look was believed to be the main factor in dragging down sales.
With that difficult time now past, nearly everyone is hailing fashion’s return to “dressing up.” With its emphasis on more refined, classic and feminine looks, this trend is conducive to wearing everything from hats and gloves to matched jewelry sets. Even the simpler aspects of this renewed formality, such as women buying and wearing more suits, is good news for those who produce tailored jewelry and handbags designed to work with such clothing.
And even if the structured handbags and elaborate hats of the ladylike look don’t push consumers to buy, accessories firms are finding plenty of other trends to latch onto.
While the range of trends for the last several spring seasons was fairly limited — confined primarily to natural and ethnic looks meant to look unobtrusive against simple clothes — this spring’s hot looks include the entire spectrum of color, as well as metallics, patent leathers, crystals and rhinestones, florals and printed fabrics. The current modes, however, are not the only factors boosting accessories firms. Another, surprisingly enough, is the industry’s state of consolidation. Though it may initially seem to be strictly a negative, firms that have relationships with the big retailers feel that the “boiling-down effect” will only serve to strengthen the ties they have to key merchants.
At the same time, the prospects of developing more business with small, individual specialty stores — the types of retailers who are well-established in their communities and targeted to very specific customer groups — are looking brighter to everyone, from small designer firms to major manufacturers. Because these types of merchants could well become the consumer alternative to department stores, accessories makers are going after this business aggressively and, at least in some cases, even opening their own specialty stores.
The ever-growing importance of brands is yet another positive avenue that just about everyone with a name to sell is pursuing. Smaller companies with signature names are branching out into new territory: The gift and home accessories field currently seems to be the area of choice for quite a few firms.
Larger vendors with well-known brand and designer names are also breaking new ground, whether it’s by extending their current product lines or venturing into completely new products.