Fashion is showing signs of coming into fashion again, with indications in some quarters that the much debated economic recovery is having a positive effect on apparel and accessories. According to market research company the NPD Group, the women's apparel market in the U.S. fell in 2009 by 5.1 percent from 2008, but the fourth quarter of 2009 showed a lesser decline of only three percent, suggesting that market momentum may be shifting. According to Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for the NPD Group, a recovery in the women's apparel market will bring a recovery in fashion sales in general; good news for merchants specializing in jewelry and other accessories.
"For the fashion industry, this is a very important sign," Cohen says. "As go women shoppers, so goes the total fashion market." According to Cohen, women represent just over 50 percent of total fashion market sales, and account for almost 25 percent more in purchases they make for others. Even with the 5.1 percent decrease in 2009, Cohen says, it's important to note that middle income consumers (those with annual incomes of $25,000-$75,000) made apparel purchases at about the same rate as they did in 2008. Upper income consumers' fashion spending was down nine percent for '09, while teens' spending fell by 20 percent.
"Between 'frugal fatigue' and pent-up demand, the consumer is spending," Cohen says, "but we will likely see a lull in February and March, as they wait for their credit card balances to recover from holiday and January sales. Then, come the change in weather in late March and April, consumers will likely be assessing their wardrobes and opening their wallets a little bit again." In the meantime, overall retail sales increased by 3.3 percent in January 2010 over January 2009, according to a Thomson Reuters survey of department stores, discounters and apparel sellers; a surprisingly positive showing for what's usually a slow month, even in the best of economic times. Among the strongest January performers were Nordstrom Inc., where sales were up by 14 percent; TJX Cos., parent to the T.J. Maxx and Marshall's chains, which reported a 12 percent rise; and Costco Wholesale Corp., with an eight percent increase. Even teen retailer Abercrombie & Fitch Co. posted an eight percent rise in sales, its first same store sales increase since April 2008.
"It's encouraging, looking at the January data, but the caveat is January and February are very low volume months," Michael Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, told The Los Angeles Times. "But it does appear that the retail recovery is being sustained. It's now multiple months of pretty solid performance." Niemira added that the Council was predicting a two percent growth for February. None of this news comes as a particular surprise to Stephanie Beedy, owner of The Zootique (www.thezootique.com), which as its name may suggest, specializes in animal print accessories, primarily for women and children. "Business has been very good," Beedy enthuses, noting that Zootique, "Went from a small corner of my garage to a company with eight employees in eight months."
Nearly everything that Zootique sells comes in zebra and/or leopard prints. "Anything that has a zebra print does really well," she says. "We have onesies, hats and shoes, to bags and iPhone cases." Baby leopard or zebra cotton booties go for $4.99 per pair, while knitted hats and beanies sell for $3.29 to $4.04, and a six pack of pink leopard/zebra daisy baby kufi hats sells for $27.99. Animal prints make wonderful accessories for otherwise plain outfits. Zootique's iPhone cases, which often have added sequins or crystals for extra bling value, go for $14.99 to $19.99. Animal print shoulder, cosmetic, and diaper/tote bags are priced at $7.99 to $15.99. Wholesale prices are also available.
Beedy credits Zootique's success with her own ceaseless research and marketing efforts. "I really should have been in marketing," she says. "I keep my ear to the ground, take the time to research what everybody else is doing, and make sure the website has lots of working links to other stores, and that those stores have working links back to mine." Zootique also offers a free coupon for customers who sign up for the store's email marketing efforts. Through these endeavors, Beedy is now stocking up on ostrich feather-bedecked accessories, firmly believing that it will be the next big thing for her customers. "We also make many of our patterns available as craft or boutique supplies, and sell by the foot," she notes.
Also succeeding with animal prints is Tickled Pink Luggage (www.wholesalecentral.com/tickledpink/store.cfm), where giraffe and zebra print totes, laptop cases, duffle bags and even lunchboxes are on sale. The bags, many of which are available in polka-dot and damask designs, sell for $6 to $14 each, according to size and design. Many, according to co-owner, Chris Coltrain, are monogrammable.
Finding a niche and sticking with it has also been beneficial to The Hold Up Suspender Company (www.suspenders.com), where owner and president, Sal Herman, says, "Business doesn't fluctuate much. It's a niche product that's a little different, unique. We can't complain."
Indeed not, in the face of the approximate 20 percent increase in traffic and conversions that Hold Up saw over the 2009 holiday season. Much of the company's ongoing success derives from the fact that Herman developed a patented no-slip suspender clip to differentiate his suspenders from others. The clip features a single, needle sharp pin in the center of the clasp, which pierces and locks into the pant waistband without cutting or otherwise damaging the fabric.
Herman claims that Hold Up is the largest manufacturer of U.S. made suspenders for men and women, with a large number of styles and colors, most available in both single and double clip varieties. He also notes that Hold Up's inventory goes well beyond "the cheap stuff" commonly found at discount stores. Most of the company's suspenders go for $29.95 per single clip set ($39.95 per dual clip set), with silk suspenders priced at $45. A relatively new demand has emerged among teenagers and other young consumers for "skinny" (half-inch wide) suspenders for guys and gals, currently available in six colors (Herman says that more are on the way), priced at $15.95 each. "I've been in this business for a good ten years, and I'd never been asked about them before last year," he marvels. "But, that's what kids want to buy and we have the largest selection on the Internet."
Discounted pricing is offered for owners of specialty men's stores and fashion accessory distributors, and all orders over $75 ship free. Herman says he works regularly to ensure that Hold Up rates high in Google AdWords, and notes that the company benefits greatly from its URL. "Suspenders.com is usually the first thing that comes up when people search 'suspenders,' and they usually at least look at the first result," he says.
Using social media has been key to business at Good Hair Days(r) (www.goodhairdays.com), according to owner/president Rosemary Pepin. "We're on Twitter and Facebook, and we're in the midst of reworking our website right now," she says. "We want to add everyday facts and include links to instructional videos on how to do your hair." The store, which specializes in fashion hair accessories for beauty and boutique stores, and bulk hair accessories for the bridal, craft and millinery markets, also has a couple of patents of its own: the Grip-Tuth(r) side combs and Magic-Grip(r) hairpins. The former, designed to hold hair securely and comfortably, are touted as the only side combs with touching teeth that gently grip and securely hold all hair types, especially fine and hard to manage hair. Magic-Grip(r) hairpins are made of flexible plastic material and are designed to holds lots of hair. The company also offers a French Twist kit, which combines the Grip-Tuth(r) combs and Magic-Grip(r) pins.
In addition, Good Hair Days(r) offers a number of twisted wire metal side combs, hairpins, tiara bases and headbands, available as bulk orders (minimum order on metal is one dozen, with discounts offered on orders of 12 dozen and 60 dozen; overall minimum order is $100), with some plated in 18 karat gold. After a "typically slow" holiday season, Pepin says, the company's bridal business has been picking up. "That's been very consistent for us, and we're expecting a pretty steady year this year."
Business has also been steady at Hair Era (www.hairera.com), according to sales manager, John Wald. Amongst its biggest sellers is the Locky Clip, a pinch-and-grip automatic hair claw that promises to be a simple way of making sure clasped hair stays in place. The Locky Clip, available in black and tortoise shell, comes in a number of designs priced at $14 to $18. "It's designed for the more sophisticated buyer," he says.
The company also supplies a number of barrettes, headbands, combs and other hair accessories. One of its newest items, Wald notes, is a paired set of oval-shaped Swarovski rhinestone salon pins, available in pink, blue and purple, and priced at $24 per pair. Hair Era's website also offers a clickable "plan-o-gram" featuring dozens of wholesale hair accessories that can be added to a customer's cart.
The following companies were interviewed:
Stephanie Beedy, owner
941 Washington Blvd., Suite 311
Roseville, CA 95678
Toll Free: 800-311-9330
Sal Herman, owner/president
The Hold Up Suspender Company
21421 Hilltop St., Suite 16
Southfield, MI 48033
Toll Free: 800-700-4515
Rosemary Pepin, owner/president
Good Hair Days(r), Inc.
73 Water Street
Leominster, MA 01453-3218
Toll Free: 888-445-5335
Christopher Coltrain, co-owner
Tickled Pink Luggage
909 Red Banks Road
Greenville, NC 27858
Toll Free: 877-353-7465
John Wald, sales manager
143 21st Street
Brooklyn, NY 11232
Toll Free: 866-424-7372
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