SOUTHEASTERN RETAILERS DON’T HAVE TO BEAT THE PAVEMENT IN NEW YORK OR LOS ANGELES TO TRACK DOWN THE HOTTEST ACCESSORIES.
Byline: Rebecca Kleinman
Designer Amy Tan’s sudden rise in the fashion world is one part destiny and one part fluke. She made her dress for her senior prom, but opted to study industrial design at Georgia Tech. Realizing her heart was in fashion design, Tan finished her degree at American Intercontinental University in Atlanta, only to take up styling and public relations after graduation.
Finally, a chance meeting at the opening of Blue Genes boutique in Buckhead put her back on the design track again.
“I had asked my mom to teach me how to crochet last year, so I could make arm- and neckwarmers for Christmas presents. The owners of Blue Genes loved the armwarmers I was wearing and placed an order,” she said.
With a little help from mom, she returned the following week with 12 pieces under the label Amy Tangerine. A shopper immediately bought a pair for her daughter. Many reorders later and to the surprise of Tan, they continue to sell out quickly at Blue Genes and other local boutiques, including Scout and T.
“I couldn’t believe items wholesaling between $18 and $50 were selling out at a 2.5 percent markup. I guess people are really finding comfort in handmade goods,” she said.
Luckily, Tan is a self-professed crocheting addict and can keep up with demand. The line offers armwarmers in wrist and elbow lengths, neckwarmers and a scarf and belt combination with a cameo and rhinestone brooch known as “This Belt Scarf Whatever You Want It to Be.” Fall pieces, either in a soft acrylic and wool blends or wool boucle, are named after food items, such as “Rice Cake,” “Pomegranate” and “Coconut Cream.” Colors include chocolate, ivory, black, cranberry and oatmeal.
For fall, she also plans to debut a hand-knit, combination clutch and shoulder bag with a denim lining and wooden button. There will be T-shirts with hand-knitted long sleeves or necks, too.
“The idea is always to combine craft with fashion,” said Tan.
Fresh out of Atlanta’s American Intercontinental University in 2001, it didn’t take long for designer Amy Wright to have her first hit. The Florida transplant has captured the attention of Atlanta boutiques like Scout and Blue Genes with her collection of handmade denim accessories inspired by a passer-by.
“I saw someone in a denim scarf and decided to make one for myself. When I decorated it with denim flowers, I thought the flowers themselves would make great accessories,” said Wright, who has begun searching for manufacturers and showrooms.
She uses denim in several washes to make chrysanthemum-shaped pins with beaded centers. Small and large sizes are available for $7 and $10, respectively. “Response has been very exciting and quick,” she said.
Expanding on the flower theme, Wright also produces a cummerbund and clutch with floral detail. Both wholesale for $25. In fall, she plans to add a denim scarf with a comfortable, felt and knit lining and denim flowers for $30 wholesale. “That one is almost as time-consuming as knitting an entire scarf,” said Wright.
Instead of adopting the typical “get in and get out” importer mentality, designer Stephanie Jolluck has immersed herself in the Mayan culture of Guatemala. To complete her degree in Latin American Literature and Anthropology from Georgia State University, she lived with a tribe there. Today, Jolluck continue to return to Guatemala six times a year to produce her jewelry and handbag line, Coleccion Luna, founded in 1999.
“I’m trying to combine their textile tradition that goes back 2000 years with modern fashion,” she said, emphasizing that her items are not the same as what’s sold to tourists on the street.
It takes up to a week to create a piece made from Czechoslovakian glass beads, crystals or quartz strung on monofilament thread. Designs are simple, like the top-selling amber crystal drop or fringe choker and bracelet set in slate, black and cream, described by Jolluck as “very flapper.”
Many necklaces represent items found in nature, like coral or twigs. “Nature is very important to the Mayans. I try to do things that make them comfortable,” she said. Since Mayans don’t wear earrings, Jolluck doesn’t offer them. She also uses more color, which their culture celebrates, though neutrals are a safer bet at retail.
Bracelets wholesale for $8 to $15, and necklaces for $10 to $20. Jolluck estimates she’s made thousands of pieces already. “Sage [a boutique with two locations in Atlanta] alone has 500,” she said. Other accounts are Dragonfly in Decatur, Ga., and Olive in east Atlanta.
Her handbag line is popular, too. Though made from the Mayan women’s colorful, embroidered cotton shirts, their appeal isn’t limited to hippies. “I’m always interested to see what kind of woman buys them. She’s five to 80 and sometimes wearing Chanel,” said Jolluck. Styles include a backpack, a briefcase and a shoulder bag, as well as a small, elegant evening bag with handles. Wholesale prices are $7 to $30.
When Firoozeh Underhill’s parents named her after the Persian word for “turquoise,” little did they know that she would grow up to become a jewelry designer who, naturally, uses turquoise.
“Persian turquoise is one of the most valuable of its kind in the world,” said the Iranian emigre, who came to Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University in 1979 to escape her country’s political turmoil. Though she also incorporates Czechoslovakian glass beads, onyx and freshwater pearls into her work, Underhill doesn’t limit herself to the finer things. In fact, she is best known for taking common materials like metal mesh, as well as perforated steel and copper, and turning them into something fashionable, feminine and delicate.
“Home Depot has become my playground. I think art is transforming everyday materials into beauty,” she said. In 1993, Underhill founded Firoozeh Inc., a men’s and women’s jewelry line.
Bestsellers are chokers, lariats and sterling-silver watches, which are available in 200 styles. Watches wholesale for $60 to $150, depending on the type and amount of semiprecious stone detail, while the entire line ranges from $25 wholesale for earrings to $300 for one-of-a-kind creations.Underhill also taps into her broad imagination when designing her handbag line, which now boasts 230 styles.
Wholesale prices are $50 to $400. The most popular bag is fairly basic — a square with a long strap and flap closure in colored metal mesh — but there are more whimsical creations, too, such as a fish made from chain mail with a copper head and tail or a tin man of perforated steel with copper mesh arms and legs.
Shoe giant Stuart Weitzman fancied her purses so much that it commissioned Underhill for two of its famous window displays. “I’m going to make tiny shoes from the same materials,” she said.
Underhill’s accounts include the High Museum in Atlanta, Elements catalog, Potpourri boutique in Atlanta and Saks Fifth Avenue in Atlanta. Her next step will be to design home furnishings and larger sculpture. Since Underhill already produces home accessories like lamp shades and picture frames, one wonders where she will find the time. “I have some helpers who clean, cut and sand, but I still hand-make every piece that comes out of my studio,” she said.
To land Vogue in less than a year is no small feat for a designer, especially for one in Atlanta who, as a former surgical salesperson for Johnson & Johnson, had no prior fashion experience. But Kelle Pollock would take a sketch pad to bed at night and draw various handbags, many of which morphed into actual samples made for an art gallery opening. “It was unbelievable how many orders we took for Christmas 2000 that night,” she said. The following December, Vogue featured a canvas bag in a pretty bird pattern from her spring 2002 collection, co-created with Atlanta artist Carolyn Carr.
Retailers took notice, too. In the first six months of business, 70 stores, including B.D. Jeffries in Atlanta, wrote orders. Though she’s carried by the Fragments showroom in New York, bigger accounts and regional showrooms also are being considered. “Because so many Southeastern retailers don’t buy in New York, I would like a presence at AmericasMart,” said Pollock.
Producing two collections per year, she offers the same silhouettes — a weekend bag, a small tote, a feed bag, a satchel with toggle closure, a tie bag with straps and an updated Bermuda bag — along with one or two new styles.
For spring, she and Carr screened Carr’s bird, floral and contemporary, geometric patterns onto heavy canvas. Color schemes are tan and red, chocolate and butter, and two-toned blue and celadon green. There is also a group of soft leathers in butter, chocolate, black and powder blue.
Pollock’s fall collection features suede, nubuck leather, shearling and nubby wool boucles in smoky palettes. The line wholesales for $125 to $180.
Stroke’s Striped Socks
Atlanta-based Stroke’s Striped Socks is the result of one man’s quest for the perfect pair of socks. The story goes that J. Ivcevich fell in love with some mustard-yellow-and-lime-green-striped socks worn by a fellow musician while playing gigs in the streets of London and Paris. A worldwide hunt for something similar turned up fruitless, so he decided to create them himself in 1999.
“I actually painted the first design and sent it to a small company in my home state of Indiana that manufactures socks for the NBA,” said Ivcevich, an Emory University graduate and DIY type who also moonlights as a deejay and an artist whose abstract paintings are shown in a New York gallery.
When the first batch of 200 pairs sold out in two weeks via word of mouth alone, the fashion novice knew he was onto something. Nationwide accounts, including super-hip Alife boutique in New York’s Lower East Side and Peke in Atlanta, soon followed, as well as an e-tail-ready Web site, strokesocks.com.
“I am always surprised to see who’s ordering,” said Ivcevich, adding, “It’s everyone from cyclists who wear them for comfort and moisture control to businessmen who like their subtlety.” Even his conservative father is a big fan.
The company currently produces nine styles, developing three to four new color combinations per year. Names are clever and informative, such as “The Blues,” “Emerald City” and “Sherbert.” Ironically, Ivcevich never got around to making the pair that inspired him.
Made from an acrylic and stretch nylon blend, the socks are machine washable and dryable. Two sizes are available, women’s 6 to 9 and men’s 10 to 13, and the wholesale price is $6.