ON THE ROAD

Byline: Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK — With consumer buying trends driving sales of lightweight and interchangeable luggage, as well as soft-sided brief and computer cases, vendors are focusing on fabrications and functionality that make life easier for world-weary travelers.
The 1995 outlook for sales of luggage and leather goods is one of the most upbeat in years, according to a recent survey of retailers and vendors by the Luggage and Leather Goods Manufacturers of America (LLGMA). Projected increases for this year average at 12.45 percent for luggage and 6.3 percent for personal leather goods and accessories and are expected to be driven by a spate of new products.
Hartmann Luggage Company, long a traditionally oriented resource in the business, plans to emphasize the trends with luggage and business cases that are more casual, unstructured and allow for greater mobility, according to Cathy Rogers, sales and service manager for the Lebanon, Tenn.-based firm.
“Softer, lighter-weight fabrications and multiple features result in increased convenience for traveling as well as conducting business,” Rogers noted.
Others are banking on nylon. The fabric itself, which was once reserved for sport bags and lower priced items, is experiencing newfound desirability because of its durability, versatility and the ability to incorporate just about every function imaginable, all without adding much to a piece’s overall weight.
Le Sportsac, a leader in nylon luggage since it started nearly 21 years ago, has just launched F9, a line of heavy-duty, high-density nylon that is water and stain-repellent. After an initial selling period for holiday 1994, the line will be rolled out nationwide throughout this year.
“We set out to create something geared for a younger and more up-to-date consumer,” said Timothy Schifter, president and co-owner. “F9 is inspired by New York bike messengers and their high-performance gear.”
The 30-piece collection focuses on messenger and backpack shapes in eight colors, some of which are oversized models that can double for luggage and “take you around the block or around the world,” Schifter said. The company expects 1995 to be its biggest growth year ever and is projecting a 25 percent increase, largely due to F9’s increased distribution and further expansion in the Far East.
Even upscale names like Mark Cross are offering their interpretation of the Nineties demand for function and style.
“More and more women are traveling, and few companies really meet their needs,” noted Alan Krantzler, vice president and general manager at Mark Cross. Monaco, the company’s six-piece line of leather-trimmed nylon weekender and carry-on items, is geared to this specific need, he noted.
“Our customer is actually seeking out the line now,” Krantzler added. “Its functionality and light weight appeal equally to both twentysomethings and sixtysomethings.”
Although he declined to give specifics, the number of items is set to be expanded with this fall’s offerings and will include additional luggage items and what Krantzler calls day-pack pieces, designed to be used for the office or the gym.
In the arena of small leather goods, strong gains that have come in the last year are largely attributable to an item that continues to evolve: the wallet-on-a-string. But the industry is also recognizing the need to foster growth in other areas besides these singular sensations. “The momentum from last fall seems to be propelling sales for spring 1995. Retailers have become more realistic and acknowledge that they must tend all areas of the business, rather than just the item of the moment,” said Richard Rubin, president of Mundi/Westport Corp. “As they’ve gained control of things on strings, they have begun to refocus on other segments of the department. As a result, we probably won’t see many third-quarter orders comprising just wallets-on-a-string.”
Rubin noted that the category has broadened from just vertical silhouettes and now includes horizontal styles as well, all in a variety of highly functional pieces from phone and beeper bags to oversized wallet bags and agendas and organizers.
His firm once again expects to see double-digit increases this year.
Items such as wallets-on-a-string have been a key factor at Rolf’s and have accounted for as much as 50 percent of the firm’s overall business in the last two years, according to Jeff Greenberg, Eastern regional sales manager.
He said the firm will continue to position itself as a major player in items, introducing two new shapes in Rolf’s patented Macrobag — a companion bag and pocket bag — and new function options for things on strings.
But he said the firm is also looking to revitalize its basic business. Rolf’s will emphasize new styles in leather and focus on it as a commodity, offering some variety in color, design and texture. With this retooling, it is projecting double-digit growth in its basics.

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