NEW YORK — In easier times, straightforward small leather goods — epitomized by the basic wallet — were enough to generate solid, steady sales every year for vendors in that field.
But now in the Nineties, with the omnipresent demand among consumers for value in all they buy, small leather goods makers are responding with pieces that can best be described as hybrids. Wallets and agendas are now being made with straps that allow them to double as mini-handbags or briefcases. Belt bags have come into their own as items of function and fashion.
While there’s still a base-level demand for simple wallets, according to most manufacturers, the emphasis in the market now is on these specialty items. One major appeal of these goods is that they can be used for more than one purpose.
“Multi-function is so important right now, it’s really the buzzword for a lot of what’s going on at our level and the retail level,” said John Florin, vice president of marketing for Mundi/Westport Corp., a firm based in Pine Brook, N.J.
For Mundi/Westport, Florin said, “hangaround” items such as wallets and clutches with detachable straps have been bestsellers for his company over the last six months or so. Florin pointed out that many of these items have added features — eyeglass cases, checkbook covers and coin purse — built right in.
“And the belt bag is still happening in a major way,” Florin added. “We thought our business there would trail off after last Labor Day, but it continues to be a strength in our line. It’s an item that seemed initially to appeal to a younger customer, but we’re coming to see that its functional appeal transcends all age groups now.”
The agenda on a string is shaping up to be a hot ticket for Gary’s Leather Creations, a Vernon, Calif., company with a showroom here. Beverly Matzdorff-Golding, vice president, pointed out that this category is doing well in two sizes: the standard agenda size as well as a larger version that has not only a removable strap but also retractable handles so that it can be carried like a little briefcase.
Another hot ticket, Matzdorff-Golding said, has been the two-layer piece, a half-purse, half-agenda combination. Both the two-layer piece and agenda on a string are tailored and classic, designed to appeal to career women. The large version of agenda on a string is done in a tapestry and leather combination, for instance, which delivers a somewhat feminine appeal.
Because these items retail in the $150 to $200 range, she noted, functionality is a must.
“Someone who’s spending that much on a personal leather goods piece wants to have every functional feature possible,” Matzdorff-Golding said. “These pieces have sections inside for everything, from post-it notes to pens.”
Koret/Givenchy, a company here that makes handbags and small leather goods, is also scoring with wallets and agendas on straps. “Even though consumers are very, very interested in value, which usually translates to basics, we’re still in an item business,” said Susan Levine, vice president of small leather goods for the company.
Levine said that wallets on strings have been extremely strong for her firm because they can be converted to miniature clutches for evening. Other key items for the company have been the double coin purse and the mini-bag, which is actually a miniature-scale handbag that has crossed into the small leather goods classification.
For Buxton, the Chicopee, Mass.-based company with a showroom here, smaller-sized pieces with multifunctional aspects have been the ticket, according to Laura Drnek, vice president of marketing and product development.
“With handbags getting smaller as per the current fashion trends, we’re finding that we’ve been going toward a smaller scale with the pieces that we make,” Drnek said. More unusual, eye-catching goods such as small credit card cases and miniature zip-around bags have been doing well. Even more functional pieces such as ensemble clutches have also been driving steady business, she added.
David Welz, sales manager for St. Thomas, also pointed to items that serve several purposes as winners in his business. St. Thomas is based in Gloversville, N.Y., and has a showroom here.
“Our Stringalong group of wallets and other items on straps is important now and will be even moreso for fall,” Welz said. “Right now, we’re getting tons of reorders in our Stringalong collection.”
Function is also figuring strongly into the picture for St. Thomas, Welz said. But he added that functional items must actually deliver what they promise if they are to get repeat business from consumers.
“For instance, we make sure the coin purse feature on our French purse is big enough to reach one’s hand into, instead of being so small that you can’t get the change out,” Welz said. “Function isn’t of much use if it doesn’t work.”