Accessories Are Basically the Only Way Anyone is Making Money in Fashion Right Now

Want to make it in the fashion design business? Excuse me, let me rephrase: Want to make it in the fashion design business and actually profit? Well t
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Hayley Phelan
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Want to make it in the fashion design business? Excuse me, let me rephrase: Want to make it in the fashion design business and actually profit? Well t
Photo: Imaxtree

Photo: Imaxtree

Want to make it in the fashion design business? Excuse me, let me rephrase: Want to make it in the fashion design business and actually profit? Well then, you better start brushing up on your accessory design skills, because, according to The New York Times, that's where all the money is.

A decade ago, accessories design was considered the little sister of sorts of traditional fashion design: Less important and less glamorous. The thinking was, if you didn't make it as a fashion designer, you could start designing accessories. But thanks to a shaky economy, the tables have turned. In a sense it's not surprising: Obviously the first place people begin to cut back in a recession is with discretionary purchases, like designer clothing. Now that the economy is improving, however, women who do have the money are more likely to spend it on a pair of $1000 shoes they can wear all the time rather than an $8000 dress they'll wear once.

We knew women's fashion had taken a hit--a big one--during the recession, but turns out the situation is worse than we thought. "Women’s fashion, for the last 18 months, has been running negative numbers," Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group told the paper. Meaning, basically, that women's fashion, as a whole, is losing money. So just how are all these designer labels keeping afloat? Accessories. Just ask Michael Kors, whose company spokesperson told the paper that accessories and related merchandise accounted for 75 percent of total revenue in 2012. Blimey.

"Over the last six months, accessories have been 2 percent ahead over the last 12 months," Cohen said. "That may not sound like a lot, but in the fashion sector, that’s great." He added that footwear, luggage, small leather goods and glasses were doing particularly well. This would explain why, for example, Victoria Beckham is launching an eyewear line, or why Elle decided to relaunch Elle Accessories, or why Barneys recently redid its shoe floor.

And it's not just established designers and retailers that are focusing on accessories. Students and schools are too. Savannah College of Art and Design, Parsons, FIT and LIM have all amped up their accessories design programs, as student interest in the field grows. For instance, SCAD's dean Michael Fink told the paper that starting in fall 2012 there'll be 80 students in the school's accessories design program, eight times the amount there was in 2008; faculty in that department has also increased from one professor to five. It's been the same story at Parsons, FIT, and LIM.

So, basically, we're looking at a future with more shoes--and less dresses. What kind of impact this trend will have over time (will designers stop making clothing? Will we start seeing more accessories-only department stores?) remains to be seen.