Accessories Designers Look for Value and Purpose as a Means to Tackle Inflation

The Accessories Council celebrated its 26th annual ACE Awards in New York City on Monday night with a guest list of industry leaders.

Award winners and presenters celebrated at Cipriani 42nd Street and caught up with WWD about their successful approaches to the many business challenges that have emerged in the last few years.

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Accessories Council president Karen Giberson said the accessories category as a whole has shown resilience. “In the last two years with the pandemic but also supply chain issues, ongoing tariff issues and people quitting their jobs — I look at this industry and they have grit and handled themselves so gracefully,” she said. “I see people thriving, we see a lot of exciting things happening and our membership is at an all-time high.”

The next challenge brands face is ongoing inflation and worries over an impeding recession. Giberson said that for brands to succeed in this climate, it’s less about price point and more about, “Giving shoppers a reason to buy something they don’t already have. I think if it’s special and meets a need, that can happen at any price point,” she said.

This appears to be ringing true at Lenscrafters, where senior vice president of operations Laurie McDonald said, “we are still seeing a market for high luxury but are seeing some more interest in mid-tier product as well.”

Vera Bradley is planning to ride out this inflationary period by honing in on its classics. Cofounder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard is positive about holiday season projections this year, which also happens to be Vera Bradley’s 40th anniversary. “Vera Bradley is almost a sisterhood. It’s not super expensive but it’s stylish and good quality; I am so proud that teachers, nurses and young mothers love us. The bags aren’t all that expensive but you get something colorful, fashionable and long-lasting,” she said.

Josie Natori shared a similar sentiment for value: “All these years, I’ve felt like you have to seduce them, otherwise it’s just more stuff. You have to work harder because there’s so much competition — not only with other products, but with people wanting to travel or buy a house.”

While she said silk prices have, surprisingly, remained stable, “it’s everything else that is proving a challenge. Five years ago, silk prices shot up but they have stabilized. Now everything else has gone up, like labor and the freight, which can be more than the entire thing. You have to absorb some [of the costs], you can’t pass it all on, so it’s a challenge for everybody.”

At Veronica Beard, riding out the pandemic meant paying even more special attention to the brand’s core clientele. The company opened stores in vacation towns where people had relocated full time, like Nantucket, Mass., and Palm Beach, Fla. “In any market it’s price value, so if the quality and fit remains, she is going to come back. Even though we are in a period of inflation, people saved a lot during the pandemic and if it’s quality, she is going to pay for it,” said cofounder Veronica Miele Beard.

Retail and brand whisperer Ron Frasch said, conversely, that today’s worries over economic forecasts are slightly overblown. “I think it’s a lot better than people think. You see a lot of consumer action and I think people like to complain and that’s kind of normal at this point,” he said.

“This is a really unusual time, it’s not like anything I’ve seen,” he added. “You have high employment and job creation and the so-called ‘R’ word [recession] supposedly happening. I think companies that manage their businesses in a smart way are going to do well.”

As previously announced, the 2022 ACE Award honorees included: J Balvin for Global Style Icon; Kurt Geiger London for Brand of the Year; Rimowa for Brand Excellence; Moda Operandi for Retailer of the Year; Josie Natori for the Hall of Fame; Victor Glemaud for the Breakthrough Award; Veronica Beard for Best Launch; Vera Bradley for the Legacy Award; “And Just Like That” costume designers Molly Rogers and Danny Santiago for the Style Influencers award; Hodinkee founder and executive chairman Ben Clymer for the Visionary award, and Lenscrafters for Retail Innovation.

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