Accessories Remain Strong Through Hard Times
By Ernest Kao
As global demand for consumer fashion goods continues to suffer from tightened expenditure and widespread uncertainty, the market for fashion accessories remains ostensibly resilient. People are shifting their fashion spending to more affordable and practical goods according to exhibitors during the recent APLF Fashion Access trade fair held in Hong Kong.
Overall, exhibitors at the fair maintained a positive outlook on the recession as consumers - who were already buying less – were turning to accessories to rejuvenate their wardrobes. “People will still be buying and looking for new things. But when people have no money to buy new coats, they will turn to accessories to refresh what they already have”, said Gert Diefenthal, Director of Diefenthal Asia Limited. The century-old, German hatmaking company expanded into the Chinese manufacturing scene thirty-years ago and had recently extended its product range to gloves, scarves and bags. “I actually believe that it is the countries which are hit worst by the recession that will be buying the most accessories.”
Girls Just Wanna Have…Shoes!
Others shared Mr. Diefenthal’s optimistic outlook. “As long as there were women who wanted to be fashionable, there will be spending,” said Benedetta Bruzziches, a designer for India-based leather manufacturer Calonge. “Customers will be looking for new, quality designs and will appreciate the research and care that has been done by us in the designs of products.” Ms. Bruzziches also emphasized the importance of innovation and creation. “We pay a lot of attention to details and try to create products with added-value features which really cater to the needs of our customers. In some of our bags, we have specialized compartments for mobile phones and lipsticks, innovative stitchless side pockets.” The Calonge Group specializes in hand-braided leather accessories targeting Dubai, India and the Middle-East. Price points range from US$200 to $700.
In terms of opportunity, it comes as no surprise that accessories makers have their eyes on big emerging markets such as India and China. For Italian footwear manufacturer LSR International Ltd and their retail brand ‘S by Massimo Santini’, China is the place to be. “China will be the biggest potential market for us,” said Luca Santini, director. “However, it is a very big market so there are still many challenges that can make it difficult to enter. I believe we’re looking at a minimum of two years in preparations for any company looking to get into China.”
Others, however, did not see China as much of an opportunity but rather a threat to their brand image. Professional footwear consultant, designer and international business agent Emilio Lungaro understood exactly what the problem is in China. “China has had big potential in terms of production, but they had always lacked one thing which is a sense of creation. They have always preferred to copy designs from elsewhere,” he said. Mr. Lungaro, an Italian born in Tianjin, China has experience in the European and China markets but felt that China was lacking the talent, creativity and design which were much needed to boost its fashion industry. “China needs to change their organizational methods and convince customers that their country is good not only in the area of price. It’s not easy but they will have to make a start.” Mr. Lungaro also encouraged more cooperation between manufacturing-strong China and design-strong Italy to create strategic partnerships.
The Allure of European Design
“The reason why we [Italy] can sell a sandal for two times the price of China-made sandals is because we have centuries of shoe designing talent and experience with high-quality materials. You can always copy a design but you can never emulate quality.” He agreed that the footwear market often remained strong throughout recessions and his advice to foreign brands looking to enter the Chinese market was to try and to study the fashion of the people not just the price, as well as to understand what materials were available in the given country.
Not only was design copying a major issue, targeting such huge and diverse market would directly affect their ability to present a product as a high-end, according to Mr. J.I Park, President of P&J Trading Co. Ltd. “People are still willing to pay for luxury goods and if you think about it, there will always be a market for high priced items, even in recessions,” he said.
As a manufacturer of exotic leathers including, shark, crocodile and ostrich, Mr. Park has managed to target a high potential niche between the high-priced and middle markets. “We understand that people want luxury but in times like these, not everyone can afford. Our objective is to produce luxury items that people are able and willing to pay for. Eel skin is a new, cheap but luxurious looking material that we have been using in some of our products,” he said. The price points for an eel leather bag is US$85 compared to a pricier ostrich leather bag which can reach up to US$220, both phenomenal in quality and appearance.
Its in times like these products that have added-value can make significant gains. Even if consumption remains down, consumers will still be spending, albeit more carefully. A little added-value and innovation can go along way to diffentiate a product from the mass of merchandise on display.