"In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity."
So said the 19th century poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. While it's doubtful that the author of "Paul Revere's Ride" had fashion accessories in mind when he coined that adage, it does reflect the state of the industry as it gears up for the spring 2009 season.
Indeed, a pragmatic return to simplicity appears to be the watchword for web-based wholesalers of both men's and women's fashion accessories. "We're going back to the basics," says Morey Serouya, Vice President of sales at Cliffwood Beach, NJ wholesaler, Future Industries (www.wholesalecentral.com/futureacc), which specializes in fashion jewelry and hair accessories. "We are focusing on the items that have always done well for us," Serouya says. "Rhinestones, faux pearls ... pretty simple stuff."
Brian Minkin, CEO at Baltimore-based sterling silver jewelry specialist, Kaylah Designs (www.kaylahdesigns.com), agrees. "We're definitely looking to go back to more mainstream, more 'pop' styles for our spring offering," he says. "People are going to be looking for expensive-looking pieces that actually aren't all that expensive."
To say that fashion accessory wholesalers are looking forward to spring is an understatement. Holiday business, traditionally one of the industry's strongest seasons, saw lower than expected sales for many companies, as the still-evolving global financial crisis made its effects painfully felt. Some businesses reported their sales to be down by 10 to 25 percent from the 2007 holiday period, which if not outright disastrous, was certainly distressing.
"Things have really been upside down," remarks Serouya, who says Future Industries' '08 holiday business was off by about 15 percent when compared to the previous year. "To a degree, we haven't truly been able to look that far ahead to spring yet - business has been so off that it is still unclear what will be selling well by the time we get to spring."
Still, spring traditionally evokes a sense of freshness and new beginnings, with sprouting shoots and blossoming flowers which often inspire designers, wholesalers and consumers alike to try and break out of the winter doldrums. Bright colors are again expected to return in a big way, as designers incorporate more vibrant tones into their collections. Combined with an optimism tinged by caution for the arrival of a new administration in the White House, and President Barack Obama's evolving economic recovery plan, wholesalers in general are trying to find silver linings in the dark economic clouds.
"It's not like we have any choice," Minkin laughs sardonically. "To a degree, we have to retrench and do whatever is necessary to inspire our buyers."
Trying something new has worked out well for Swanson Christian Products (www.swansoninc.com). The director of marketing and business development, John McKinney, reveals that the Tennessee-based company is beginning to delve deeper into apparel and fashion accessories. The wholesaler, whose catalog ranges from church supplies and framed art to puzzles and musical instruments, added Christian-themed T-shirts last year that are, "doing well," he says.
Swanson also offers packs of 96 fingernail files, which include 24 each of four different styles, a line of "Unfading Beauty" glass nail files that include messages like "Blessed" and "God Is Love", "Fruit of the Spirit" lip gloss ("Collectively, these are the fruits that all Christians should be producing in their lives with Jesus Christ") a selection of men's neckties, and an assortment of bracelets, charms, and necklaces, many incorporating Christian-themed messages.
Meanwhile, Selini Neckwear (http://selininy.com) continues to specialize in men's wear and accessories that are largely impervious to changing styles, according to the company's president Paul Park. The New York City wholesaler offers a variety of formal wear and accessories, including silk woven neckties, bowties and cufflinks for both men and boys.
However, the company is expanding its offerings to include more women's accessories, such as handbags, scarves, barrettes and scrunchies. And while Selini has made its name with more formal items, it has also found room for novelty items in its necktie and socks collections, often incorporating a sports-related theme.
Another company largely immune to the fickle forms of fashion is the West Sacramento, CA-based Pro Charms (procharms.com), which offers officially licensed jewelry and accessories featuring the logos of professional and collegiate sports teams. Pro Charms president, Jennifer Gonzales, says that, unsurprisingly, demand usually rises for items identifying with teams that are doing well, though of course every team has its die-hard fans. In addition to such mainstays as bracelets, necklaces and earrings featuring team logos. The company also offers more up-to-date items, including team-specific dog tags, cellphone charms and body jewelry.
Meanwhile, at Kaylah Designs, Minkin says that interest in all things that glitter, but that may not be gold, remains high. "Gold-plated jewelry is more popular than ever," he declares, "Even more popular than silver-plated." This is true for earrings, pendants and bracelets, Minkin says, adding that stackable rings and long necklaces remain popular. A new silk bracelet with a sterling silver charm that Kaylah Designs introduced last year has sold strongly as well, he adds.
Also remaining popular, particularly with the current state of the economy, is cubic zirconia. "We do a lot of business with items that are designer-inspired, as well as with our own designs," he says. "Tiffany came up with a mesh line of jewelry last year that is very popular and we designed our own version. We are featuring several new mesh creations, all handmade. It's a very in-demand look."
Updated versions of classic accessories are hot items for spring. "Rhinestones in various colors are selling well right now," agrees Serouya at Future Industries. As examples of especially sought-after classics, Serouya points to his company's line of scarves, especially pashminas, and cosmetic bags as being among his stronger sellers. In addition, he says the company's line of hip-hop inspired accessories, including do-rags and hair picks, was an instant hit last year and continues to sell steadily.
Simplicity is also the rule at Red Barn Ranch Wholesale (www.redbarnranchwholesale.com), according to owner Kathy Satterfield. The company caters to western customers ("emphasis on cowgirls," Satterfield laughs) with its selection of purses, belts, wallets and jewelry. "We're seeing more traditional western styles coming in for this spring," she says. "There are a lot of styles coming out in simple black and brown colors, maybe with a splash of another color, instead of lots of big rhinestones and the more 'bling' look that was popular last spring."
One major exception to that rule is a new line inspired by Ed Hardy's trademark tattoo designs. "We introduced two purses and a makeup bag in that style, and they sold out in two days," Satterfield marvels. "That was quite a surprise - a pleasant one! "You are always a little hesitant at first when you decide to try something new," she continues, "and this line was very different from what we usually offer."
Some companies are already looking ahead to the 2009 holiday season. Such is the case at The Holey Hat Company (www.wholesalecentral.com/holeyhat), which specializes in stocking hats with holes at the crown to allow for ponytails and other long hairstyles. The inspiration for the design came to company president and founder, Peggy Sheehan, when she cut a hole in her existing hat to avoid the discomfort and hassle of trying to tuck her long hair inside.
The 100 percent acrylic hats, made for wash and wear and aimed primarily at high school aged girls, come in two styles: one with a snowflake pattern over a solid color and the other with a fully solid design. They are available in 14 color schemes, including deep yellow with a dark blue snowflake, and salmon with a white snowflake.
Many wholesalers say they are planning to roll out new marketing and sales plans this spring, though several are still formulating what those changes will be. "It's still a little early for us," Satterfield says, "But it's something we are definitely going to do. We just haven't had the time to sit down and focus on it yet."
Kaylah Designs launched a new catalog in January, and is in the midst of a major upgrade to its website, Minkin says. "We plan to roll out a major new marketing strategy by spring," he adds.
The following companies were interviewed for this story:
1496 Resiterstown Rd., Suite 111B
Baltimore, MD 21208
Toll Free: 866-4-KAYLAH
Tel.: Tel: 410-764-6818
17 Industrial Drive
Cliffwood Beach, NJ 07735
Toll Free: 800-929-0006
Swanson Christian Products
1200 Park Avenue
Murfreesboro, TN 37129
Toll Free: 800-251-1402
Red Barn Ranch Wholesale
P.O. Box 980383
West Sacramento, CA 95798
22 West 27th Street 2nd floor
New York, NY, 10001
Toll Free: 866-955-TIES
The Holey Hat Company
27 Golf Course Road
South Dennis, MA 02660
Toll Free: 877-385-7370
Tel.: 508 258-0252
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