“Doing Good” Trumps “Looking Good” at New York Fashion Accessory Show

By guest author James O’Donnell, Special Correspondent, New York for Hong Kong’s Trade Development Council’s Research Arm

Amid the eclectic mix of products on display at New York’s Accessories the Show, one of the few common threads apparent across the many categories was an emphasis on social responsibility, a trend that manifested itself in terms of both material sourcing and production processes.

From bags to bangles, from scarfs to spectacles, a diverse mix of products greeted visitors to New York City’s Accessories the Show – one of the few 2020 US fashion trade events to slip under the wire before the Covid-19 shutters came down. With little in common among many of the products across the various categories, it was somewhat more difficult than usual to identify the trends that predominated on the show floor. One thread, however, that could be discerned among the miscellany of goods on show was an emphasis on doing something positive (or, at least, appearing so to do), which manifested itself in a range of ways – from the overtly eco‑friendly to the conspicuously socially responsible.

One company leaning heavily on its more ethical elements was Oliver Thomas, a Massachusetts‑based bags brand. Keen to promote its vegan certification, Company Representative Chris Chinn said: “Such certification is actually quite rare, with not too many organisations taking the time to secure it. In line with this, the factory where our bags are made has to be wholly animal‑friendly, with no animals killed and no animal products used in the manufacturing process.”

As well as being kind to animals, the company’s range of bags is also said to be kind to their owners, coming packed with features designed to make them essential accessories. Expanding upon this, Chinn said: “One of the things that sets our bags apart from those of our competitors is the inclusion of a secret pouch for keeping your valuables safe.

“In addition, there’s also a partitioned compartment sewn into the bottom lining – so, if you’re using one as a travel or gym bag, you can separate your clean clothes from your dirty ones in the individual sections. In this way, you’re also helping save the planet as, instead of using plastic bags for all your dirty laundry, you’re using one machine‑washable item.”

Another company looking to highlight its more worthy wares was Blue Planet, a California‑based fashion eyewear specialist. Outlining the company’s philosophy, Chief Executive Lisa Lawenda said: “We pride ourselves on being an eco‑eyewear company. We solely use recycled metals and plastics and we also incorporate bamboo and wood into many of our designs. Everything is made sustainably and we plant a tree for every frame we sell and donate a pair for every pair bought.

“Overall, I would say US consumers are increasingly receptive to our approach and willing to support good causes with a little extra spending. While it does take a fair bit of explaining, nothing is insurmountable.”

For many, the manufacturing process involved is now every bit as important as the source materials of any given product. Looking to capitalise on this particular consumer sentiment was Elegant Editions, a Delaware‑based producer of handcrafted scarves and other fashion items. Emphasising the appeal of its socially‑responsible manufacturing, Company Vice‑president Amy Sheth said: “All our silk scarfs and kimonos are handmade and people really care about that aspect of our business. It also helps to economically support the region of India where they’re all made and, of course, everybody loves a backstory.

“Right now, it’s our more colourful products that seem to be hitting the mark. Our scarves have been moving well at this show – especially the tie dye and rainbow variants.”

The more brightly‑hued items were also doing well for another scarf manufacturer – New Jersey‑based Vivante. Detailing where demand was currently high, Bharti Jain, the company’s President, said: “Customers do like colour, so colour’s been going extremely well. In spring, there is a preference for scarves that are a little bit thinner and, of course, black and white always sells well pretty much everywhere.

“Sales of our fish and animal prints are also up. At the same time, we’re finding that mixed prints – a combination of two different patterns – are also particularly popular.”

Addressing the perennial question of the varying aesthetic values of different parts of the US, she said: “There’s certainly a variance in terms of regional preferences for scarfs, both with regard to look and to material. Here in New York, the blacks, greys and browns sell well, but down south it’s more the greens, the pinks and the blues.

“It’s also fair to say that while some regions like a narrow scarf, others like a wider one. In order to cater to this, we keep the same fabric but change the size. It’s wide up here but down south where it’s warmer, they want to throw on something light just to show a little colour.”

In terms of trends and styles in the bag market, it would seem that totes and cross‑bodies are the most popular right now. Clearly happy to testify to this, Sara Taublib, a Director of Basically Brazil, a New York State‑based South American designer handbag brand, said: “Basically, right now, it’s a totes business; that’s our number‑one seller. Together with cross‑bodies, those are our big sellers.

“There are certain things, however, that are trendless, that are always in. I’m very much for that kind of look – something you can always wear, no matter what.”

Oliver Thomas’ Chinn identified the same two styles as his best‑sellers, saying: “The Wing Woman tote is our most popular item, while tote in general is our most popular silhouette. After that, it would be the cross‑body.”

For Roberto Pancani, Owner of Florence‑based Roberto Pancani, it was his company’s hand‑woven speciality bags that were finding most favour with US buyers. Outlining their appeal, he said: “We offer many kinds of weaving – including plain and tubular – and Americans really seem to go for these kinds of bag, especially the woven leather and the raffia variants. While there are many raffia bags on show at this event, ours are special in that they are handmade in Italy, with tan, cognac and off‑white our most popular colours.”

As ever, jewellery exhibitors accounted for a hefty proportion of the floorspace at the event, while also covering a broad spectrum of preferences and price points. Very much representing the more popular end of the market was Vanessa Abramowitz, Founder of the Miami‑based Marli and Lenny fashion jewellery line.

Highlighting one particularly popular current trend, she said: “Layering is still very much the in thing among many consumers. As a concept, it’s not too expensive and people can adopt it without there being too much commitment to any one piece. Basically, they can buy a few items, stack their bracelets and then mix and match.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Montreal‑based Anne Marie Chagnon was finding success with the high‑art stylings of its pewter‑based collection. Sandra Page, Director of Sales, said: “This particular collection includes images from several creative works by our founder, Anne Marie. One, for example, features details of a metal sculpture she’d worked on earlier. We’ve found that this cross‑fertilisation across different artistic sectors has gone down hugely well with clients.”

Accessories The Show 2020 took place from January 5 – 7, 2020, at New York City’s Jacob K Javits Convention Centre.