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Becalmed New York Accessories Show Still Waiting for Next Big Thing

Sluggish sales and a subdued market were reported by many exhibitors at this year's New York edition of Accessories The Show, although for some the real reason for the spending downturn was the lack of any truly big new ideas in the sector.

Photo: Accessories The Show: An event in wait of a big new idea or two.
Accessories The Show: An event in wait of a big new idea or two.
Photo: Accessories The Show: An event in wait of a big new idea or two.
Accessories The Show: An event in wait of a big new idea or two.

The mood was somewhat subdued at this year's Accessories The Show, with a number of exhibitors complaining that many of the buyers and consumers attending the New York-held event seemed a little reluctant to spend. While some blamed the timing of the show – falling, as it does, a little late for summer and a little early for autumn/winter – others saw the slow economy as the main reason wallets remained unopened. With handbags and jewellery dominating the show, it was perhaps telling that exhibitors in these two sectors felt that the fault lay elsewhere, largely blaming the lack of must-have items for the apparent consumer indifference.

Among this latter group was Alexis Dabagh, Director of Sales for New York-based Pietro, a specialist manufacturer of Italian leather handbags. Bemoaning the lack of inspiration dogging the market, she said: "While we do well, the economy has clearly been suffering and the market, in general, has been a little strained.

"I don't think that there is anything out there that is making people go: 'Oh, I've got to have that'. Overall, people are being rather cautious as to what they purchase."

Similarly downbeat was Yessica Serrano, a Senior Designer with Triple 7 Global, a fellow bag manufacturer, but this time operating out of Los Angeles. Assessing the current state of the sector, she said: "Business, in general, has been a little slow, although we are, thankfully, still okay.

"A lot of companies – and a lot of department stores in particular – are suffering. They're not buying anything like as much as they used to. For me, 2016 and 2015 were both lot better."

As well as an overall lack of inspiration, some retailers were clearly feeling the impact of changed consumer buying habits, particularly with regard to the dramatic growth in the number of purchases now made online. Addressing this particular shift, Jenny Yui, Director of Operations for Most Wanted USA, a New York-based bags brand, said: "A lot of our boutique clients are saying that business is harder now and they are largely blaming increased competition from the e-commerce sector.

"Many of the e-commerce companies, though, such as Shopbob and Zappos, also seem to be struggling. It could just be that everything is spread very thin right now. I do, however, feel that it might be picking up – while the first-quarter was not great, there are signs that the third might see something of an upturn."

The lack of any particularly hot trend also seemed to be undermining sales in the jewellery sector. Acknowledging this, Seth Gibbs, a Sales Representative with Mississippi-based Victoria Lynn Jewellery, said: "Four years ago, we had one product that we were forever selling out of. Now, it barely counts among our top best-selling products. It's all part of the fashion-driven mind-set, with everybody thinking: 'I already have two of those, so I am going to put off spending until the next Big Thing hits the shelves'.

"Despite that, there are still some bright spots. Our stackable bracelets – one of our cheaper lines – are actually selling well. At the moment, they are among the biggest trends in the South.

Photo: Star performer: A Pietro handbag.
Star performer: A Pietro handbag.
Photo: Star performer: A Pietro handbag.
Star performer: A Pietro handbag.
Photo: PVC: The new thing. Apparently.
PVC: The new thing. Apparently.
Photo: PVC: The new thing. Apparently.
PVC: The new thing. Apparently.

"This is largely because consumers are realising: 'I can get 10 of them and none of them will be the same'. As a result, people are constantly coming back and buying more. It also helps that they come in an endless number of colours."

Wrist-wear was also proving to be the most popular category for another jewellery exhibitor at the event, New York-based Pin & Tube. Citing a clear seasonal factor, Jee Hye Kwon, the company's Senior Designer, said: "This show is more focussed on summer and spring time, so it is bangles and earrings that have been selling well."

Finding success elsewhere was Sakine Gulec, Creative Director of New York based Armorium, who said: "It's chokers that are going well for us right now."

Certain distinctive items featuring novel materials seemed to also be doing well in the jewellery sector. Despite being an unusual choice for jewellery, a PVC collection was attracting considerable attention for Montreal-based brand, Anne-Marie Chagnon. Drilling down into its appeal, Sales Director Sandra Page said: "Every year, we have a new collection with a lot of pieces and new colours. This year, PVC is the new thing. People really love it."

Over in the slightly more subdued handbags sector, one or two bright spots could still be discerned. Clear as to her own best-selling item, Dabagh said: "Our Brooklyn bag. It's a mini-shopper tote that you can wear cross-body, folded over as a clutch or use it simply handheld. It's our buckets and totes that are really popular right now.

"We have this star bag that is definitely on trend and you will see stars pretty much everywhere. Despite that, we also have buyers who say: 'Yeah, it's really trending, but it's not right for my customers.

"In the case of my own direct client base, they tend to be people who like to play safe. If they are going to buy an expensive leather bag, they want to be still able to use it in 20 years' time."

Noting some of the other positive trends, Serrano, said: "As far as materials go, it's velvets, plus sequins, plus anything really shiny – and holograms. As far as body goes, mini-backpacks are probably the biggest mini-trend, while fanny packs and waist bags are also doing well.

"Overall, the East Coast is kind of boring and doesn't really like anything too funky. While they often tend to opt for the more simple tones, they've also been buying a lot of holograms, which is somewhat surprising. I really didn't expect that."

In the case of both bags and jewellery, perceived variations in US regional consumer tastes also played a part in the ranges that exhibitors chose to bring to New York. For Dabagh, many of the local preferences are driven by the New York lifestyle.

Expanding upon this, she said: "As they are always on the go, New York residents always like the bigger bags. For California customers, meanwhile, it's more about bright colours and metallic flourishes. By contrast, in the southern states, the pastel colours are more popular, although there is also more of a glitz and glam feel than there is in New York or LA."

Broadly agreeing, Serrano said: "The West Coast definitely takes more risks. The East Coast is kind of boring and they don't really like anything funky, so they buy more simple tones."

A similar variation was also apparent in the jewellery sector, with Gibbs saying: "The North and South are totally different. In Mississippi, Florida and Alabama, it's all big and bling – the bigger the stone, the shinier a stone, the better. When you get over to Louisiana – my home state – it's more about earth tones. It's more melancholy and more metal-orientated.

"This region, in particular, I would say is very metal-oriented, very drawn to gold plating, silver plating and rose gold. Textured metal is also really popular, especially when it comes to handmade items."

Photo: Bangles: Pin & Tube’s best-sellers.
Bangles: Pin & Tube's best-sellers.
Photo: Bangles: Pin & Tube’s best-sellers.
Bangles: Pin & Tube's best-sellers.
Photo: Most Wanted USA’s small-bag range.
Most Wanted USA's small-bag range.
Photo: Most Wanted USA’s small-bag range.
Most Wanted USA's small-bag range.

Page also saw individual collections as having very different prospects in the various regional markets, saying: "In the South, we sell lots more platings – the shiny stuff. In the Midwest, we sell more of the pewter silver colours, a preference that extends into New England, although it's also little bit more conservative overall. It also has a lot do with geography – if we have blue in a collection, that will sell really well anywhere there is a coastline."

Accessories The Show 2017 was held at New York's Jacob K Javits Convention Center from 7-9 May.

James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, New York

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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