more labels jumping on the bag-wagon

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Fashion designer Genevieve Smart, of Ginger and Smart, likens making shoes to manufacturing a small car.

“It’s so intricate, there are so many parts. The minutiae, every millimetre counts in a shoe. If a strap is six millimetres out it can change the whole shoe,” she says.


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Far less forgiving than, say, a dress – with the obvious exception of couture – accessories have a higher margin for error than ready-to-wear clothing.

And yet, more Australian designers are supplementing their main lines with everything from shoes and bags to footwear and jewellery.

Ginger and Smart, which began as an accessories business 15 years ago, was one of the labels to send its signature pyramid-shaped bags and belts down the runway at Melbourne Fashion Week.

Far from being a trend confined to the upper end of the market, emerging brands are also expanding into accessories.

According to designers contacted by Fairfax Media, the benefits are threefold: to attract new customers with a “low-risk” item; being able to sell a whole “look” to a time-poor customer; and to create a new revenue base.

Smart said accessories account for about 15 per cent of sales for Ginger and Smart, with a growing customer cohort exclusively buying the brand’s shoes and bags.

Still, the brand has resisted the temptation to make its accessories range too big, preferring the “all killer, no filler” approach.

“There’s a lot of pressure to do huge collections, especially from department stores and buyers. They want to see 15 bags and shoes. [Brands need to] stay strong and just do an edited collection of good-quality pieces that work,” she says.

Melbourne label Pageant, which won the 2015 National Designer Award, collaborated with Crumpler, famous for its messenger bags, for its new collection.

Co-founders Amanda Cumming and Kate Reynolds say accessories were always part of the bigger picture for the brand.

“We have always wanted to do shoes and bags and sunglasses, so this is a starting point for us,” Cumming says.

Determined to keep their production local (and ethical), the pair said it’s difficult to find high-quality accessories manufacturers in Australia.

The Melbourne Fashion Festival, which presents the National Designer Award with sponsor David Jones, hopes to address the issue in the future, by considering an accessories category alongside the main fashion prize.

It’s a move that makes sense given Australians spend $1.2 billion each year on accessories, which includes sunglasses and bags, plus a further $583 million on costume jewellery, according to IBIS World.

Internationally, brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton make large portions of their total sales from handbags, which, according to a report by Exane BNP Paribas, accounted for up to 30 per cent of the total luxury market in 2016.

With accessories sales peaking in Australia during the spring racing carnival, Cue, which is turning 50 next year, has just launched its first range of headpieces.

Retail brand manager Kate Bielenberg​ said the company will never try to compete with the larger accessories brands in the market.

“We have approached the entire [accessories] range as a limited-edition exercise. We are a clothing company. The majority of our production budget goes into that,” she said. “But we thought it made sense to give the customer the complete wardrobe solution so she could have everything covered,” she said

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