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Accessorize; Fashion's Necessity and a Growth Industry

posted by Professor Marie Driscoll, CFA

Haviland_CollegeFashionista-1.jpgWhat is a LBD (“little black dress”) without a fabulous pair of earrings, or a statement necklace, a Spanish scarf (and fan please), or a rhinestone clutch? You know where I’m going. Coco Chanel made the LBD the must-have staple of a fashionable woman’s wardrobe; accessories make the LBD all the clothing she needed (almost).

The US accessories industry is a $50.8 billion industry according to the Accessories Council, a non-profit organization founded in 1994 to stimulate consumer awareness and demand for fashion accessory products. With 260 corporate members spanning the globe including leading brands, designers, retailers as well as academia and media, the Accessories Council, headquartered on the perimeter of NYC’s fashion district (actually amid the fur market, often considered the ultimate accessory) is a fount of industry knowledge and connections with a strong charitable streak and a practice of giving back.

Granted, retail is in an incredible period of flux and apparel is treated by many as a commodity as often as it is considered fashion, but accessories have long been the categories one goes to for personalization, creativity and inspiration. Accessories are a way to test a new fashion trend without the full-blown commitment an article of clothing requires; they update your look without an apparel purchase. Accessories are the tools used to develop a personal style and what people remember about you; e.g., she always has the best eyewear! 

For retailers, most accessory categories are a goldmine. Think about handbags and small leather goods, or fashion jewelry. No sizing necessary and they enjoy a longer selling season than most of the apparel categories they complement. This translates into fewer markdowns and superior merchandise and profit margins. Good sales associates suggest adding scarf, belt and bag to complete a look and drive increased UPT (units per transaction) and ATV (average transaction value).

I recently met with Karen Giberson, president of the Accessories Council and she spoke of the Council’s early days, when minimalist apparel was the prevailing fashion theme and many designers worried about their relevance and their future. The influx of Amazon and the ascension of digital in the fashion ecosystem has many designers similarly concerned and painting a dreary picture of the apparel industry in 10 years’ time. Not so for accessories, where the global outlook is more robust. Euromonitor sees global apparel sales rising 2% versus a 4% gain for accessories in 2017.

Karen’s advocacy for the accessory industry includes that New York fashion elites must attend black tie event, the ACE (“Accessories Council Excellence”) Awards. On August 7, the Accessories Council honored more than a dozen designers, style icons, retailers and brands, for their contribution of talent and leadership to the accessory industry. (For Karen’s discussion of the event and the winners, read here:

Quickly approaching is the November 15 Accessories Council Summit, a full day of discussions on innovation, technology, managing change and evolution from thought leaders such as Bobbi Brown, Marshal Cohen (The NPD Group), Michael Stanley (Rosenthal & Rosenthal), Anne Fulenwider and Nancy Berger (Marie Claire).  Definitely a conference for apparel and accessories retailers and brands!

Topics: accessories, Accessories Council