Byline: Melanie Kletter

NEW YORK — Junior accessories firms are offering a range of innovative and offbeat products to snare teens this summer and fall, including mohair necklaces, crocheted cowboy hats and hot pink cell phone bags.
Young consumers seem to have an insatiable appetite for all manner of jewelry and accessories. However, vendors said they have had to step up the novelty to stand out from the growing crowd.
“The junior accessories business is getting extremely crowded,” said Maurice Haber of Bijou International, a maker of costume jewelry and hair accessories. “There is room for growth and expansion, but you have to be innovative.”
Nonetheless, youth-oriented retailers of all sizes are devoting more room to the category, and industry executives and retailers say junior accessories are among the fastest-growing segments in demand by financially powerful young consumers.
The classification is receiving more attention from branded companies such as Guess, XOXO and Steve Madden, all of which are enlarging their accessories offerings.
Judging from recent runway looks that showcased bags and jewelry, summer and fall are expected to be strong seasons for accessories, which have shown continued strength throughout 1999 and into this year.
Many vendors said they expected to drive sales this year by expanding distribution, adding new categories such as gift and home items, and by focusing more on presentation and packaging. Growth in junior accessories is coming from purchases by girls and tweens and from women in their 20s and 30s who want hip looks without a large price tag.
Among the accessories expected to be big in the coming seasons are beaded looks and gold metallic jewelry inspired by the Seventies and Eighties revival taking place throughout the fashion world. Lariat necklaces, duster earrings and large hoops are some styles on tap.
Glitter and glam motifs will also be key as vendors spice up their offerings with sparkle and shine. Animal prints and textured fabrics such as fleece are receiving more attention in handbags.
“Overall, junior accessories are doing fantastically,” said Marla Schaefer, vice chairman of Claire’s Stores, the giant junior accessories retailer. “Sales are really being driven by all the newness in color. Also, teens are very experimental. One day they want to look preppy and the next day they don’t, and accessories give them freedom to try new looks.”
Claire’s has been on a growth spurt lately and has seen strong selling throughout the past year. Last December, the chain purchased the Afterthoughts accessories chain from Venator Group for $250 million. Based in Pembroke Pines, Fla., Claire’s now operates more than 3,000 stores under a variety of names, including Claire’s Accessories and The Icing.
Claire’s is also testing a new chain geared at the 8-to-12-year-old crowd, and is expanding its offerings of bath and body products. The firm plans to expand more in Europe, too, according to Schaefer.
Berry Jewelry, which produces private label accessories for chains such as American Eagle Outfitters and Limited’s Express division, has seen the category explode in the 12 years since the company was founded, said president Martha Berry.
“Our business doubled last year and we expect to be up about 30 percent this year,” she said.
She said her business had been helped by the company’s focus on introducing new looks on a regular basis.
“Kids get sick of everything so fast,” Berry said. “We try to introduce new products every week.”
Berry expects to see growth from the company’s new line of gift products called bX2, which includes jewelry boxes, picture frames and mirror compacts. It is also offering unusual mohair necklaces and brightly colored bracelets and necklaces featuring tiny buttons.
Lulu, a new accessories firm, will launch its products at retail for back-to-school with a more holistic approach. The company has developed an integrated merchandise approach, presenting all its classifications, including handbags, jewelry and hair accessories, in one fixture.
“We are making it easier for teens to shop by offering one-stop shopping,” said Katie Meehan, Lulu’s director of sales.
Lulu’s styles include fleece bags, reversible denim bags, multiple bracelets and handkerchiefs and brightly colored cell phone holders. Bags are the company’s largest classification.
Guess has beefed up its accessories business, which now accounts for about 10 percent of overall sales. Most of the lines are produced by licensees, although the Guess design teams work together to ensure that its apparel and other products follow similar design trends, according to Dan Fawall, vice president and general merchandise manager for Guess retail stores.
“Accessories are moving at the same pace as ready-to-wear and are becoming one of our major growth categories,” he said.
“Many people are buying accessories now for a certain outfit, as part of the ensemble.”
Among the accessories Guess licenses are women’s belts, eyewear, footwear, handbags, jewelry, small leather goods, socks and watches.
Fawall said Guess was introducing a number of novelty items for fall, including crocheted cowboy hats and crocheted scarves, as well as retro-looking watches, including some with color. Other fashion trends on tap are handbags with embellishments and prints.
Uccicucci, a New York accessories firm, is concentrating on glam looks and punk-rock-inspired items such as rhinestone necklaces and snake chains.
“We are doing more showcase pieces rather than mass items,” said Joe Ferucci, owner of Uccicucci.
The Walter Heimler Co., manufacturer of costume jewelry for more than 40 years, decided to jump into the junior pool in 1998 with an accessories line called Cool Stuff.
Cool Stuff for summer and fall is zeroing in on a number of unusual products, including scented bracelets, a tinsel pompom, concert bracelets and jewelry sold in a CD case, said Ron Heimler, president.
“This market is very item-driven, and that’s the challenge,” Heimler remarked. “You always have to have new and novelty items. Also, packing and presentation are very important.”
Heimler said the Top Shop junior chain in London, which is now carrying Cool Stuff products in about 100 of its stores, is helping his company to grow.
Another category poised for growth in the junior arena is hair accessories, which have lagged in the last year following the burst of excitement generated two years ago by butterfly clips and other small hair ornaments. Now the trend is to more classic hair items such as headbands and head scarves, which can be found at all prices, vendors said.
Haber of Bijou International said his firm was concentrating on soft hair accessories, particularly head wraps in a variety of materials and crocheted head bands.
Bracelets are also receiving a lot of attention, including Velcro bracelets and bangles, Haber said.
Sanrio, the company that operates the Hello Kitty line of products, has been strong recently and is expanding into new categories such as clothing and electronics, according to Bill Hensley, marketing director.
The firm is offering a variety of backpack styles, as well as watches, stationary items and school supplies.