Starting a fashion accessory business

Fashion accessories

Baubles, bangles and beads

Accessorise, accessorise, accessorise.

Consumers are following the mantra of the fashionistas and style gurus more closely than ever before.

The fashion accessories market has out-performed all other sectors in the clothing industry, growing by around 40% between 2000 and 2005

The fashion accessories market has out-performed all other sectors in the clothing industry, growing by around 40% between 2000 and 2005 and showing no signs of slowing. Total retail sales grew 20% over the same period.

The boost has generally been attributed to higher levels of employment and personal disposable income, while the cult of celebrity also exerts a massive influence. Every item worn by a Kate Moss or a David Beckham will be often receive a boost in sales.

According to Mintel consumer research, sales of women’s accessories alone grew by 68% during this period while men’s spending increased by 5%, highlighting a considerable variation across product ranges.

Specialist's market

The retail environment is fiercely competitive, so finding a niche in the accessories market may help you establish a foothold.

Claire Collins, founder of Violet May, agrees that if you spot a gap in the market for a certain item then it’s wise to capitalise on it. Her company makes luxury business accessories that are orientated towards women aged between 25 and 40.

“I felt there was a gap in the market for this and I’m passionate about accessories and fashion,” she says. “I did it because there aren’t any products out there that are functional and stylish. It’s definitely an undeveloped sector.”

Indeed, the products that sell well to men and those that appeal to women are quite specific. It seems retailers should look to cater for a certain market – to specialise.

Women spend more on handbags than anything else in the accessories market. In 2005 they accounted for 61% of all women’s sales, totalling £350m.

The value of the market grew by a massive 146% between 2000 and 2005 – effectively trebling – with 27% of women having bought at least one handbag during 2005.

As for men, ties accounted for half of all male accessory purchases in 2005, standing at £156m. Belts also figured prominently, as the next most popular accessory for men to buy after ties.

Only 20% of consumers had not bought any accessories over the last year, and only 15% said that they never buy any accessories at all – leaving plenty of scope to encourage dormant purchasers to buy more frequently.


Multiple accessory purchases are a key feature of the market. On average adults buy two accessories a year, although some buy as many as 15. Older consumers will shop for accessories just once or twice a year, while under 24s are likely to buy accessories once a month. And those younger consumers that regularly buy accessories have a wealth of choice when it comes to choosing where to buy them.

At the cheaper end of the market, discount stores have boomed over the past few years and now enjoy nearly a quarter of the UK clothing market. Stores such as Primark, Peacocks and Matalan offer consumers ‘fast fashion’, copying trends from the catwalk, but producing copycat goods for a fraction of the designer price.

Low-end market growing

The majority of women prefer own-label goods and do not consider designer goods to be value for money. Instead they opt for the cheaper stores, where ‘disposable’ fashion is on offer.

Although they’re not currently strong in the accessories market, such stores are expanding their ranges rapidly and are likely to become more significant players in the future.

In the mid-market, Marks & Spencer is the most popular store for purchasing accessories, with Next and Next Directory just behind.

Topshop has forged an innovative reputation for selling fashion accessories, for both the lines they stock and the methods of shopping they offer.

“Their prices are good and their quality seems very good,” says a spokeswoman for a major department store. “They bring designs out on to the shop floor before the big brands.”

At the top end of the spectrum, luxury designer labels have become more accessible to the buying public; Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Prada are not just for the rich.

There is now ample opportunity to get designer goods for a fraction of the original cost and plenty of reasonable quality high-street copies of catwalk fashions.

However, it is worth noting that more than one quarter of consumers do not consider designer labels to be worth the money, compared to just 8% who are prepared to pay the premium for a top brand.

The outlook for the industry as a whole, nevertheless, is optimistic.

Younger consumers with a high level of personal disposable income are very committed to keeping up with trends, which are influenced considerably by the celebrities they see in gossip magazines and on television. They buy regularly to update their wardrobe and tend to be multiple purchasers. But with an ageing population there is also considerable scope to reach out to older consumers who buy accessories rarely, invariably out of practical necessity.

With so much choice in terms of price and stock in the marketplace at the moment, the need to specialise and offer something unique is more important than ever.


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