The owners of the eclectic Y & I Clothing Boutique in San Francisco not only fill their brick-and-mortar store with the latest trends in fashion and accessories, but they affiliate with Shoptiques, an online resource that gives small boutiques the opportunity to sell their wares to a worldwide market.
“We run our entire online platform with Shoptiques,” owner Robin Boesch said. “We’ve been with them since they started and find them super easy to work with; they give us an online option that we wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s hard for small retailers to keep up in the competitive game of e-commerce, and Shoptiques makes that possible for us.”
Y & I diligently curates their clothing inventory to reflect the latest trends; this year, Boesch reports that the ‘90s are back in vogue, with slip dresses and dark floral prints. “We are also seeing a lot of oversized items … swing dresses and tunics that can be worn with leggings … that shape is very popular, especially with millenials.”
There are a number of reasons why consumers are drawn to gift shops to buy apparel and accessories. Unlike big-box stores, the fashion and accessories on display in gift shops are not likely to be found at every other corner store, lending a quality of uniqueness to that purchase. Plus, as consumers are busier than ever, people don’t often have the time to spend a day at the mall — often a quick stop at a gift shop to pick up a few grab-and-go items may suffice.
“The advantage gift stores have for apparel and accessories is that they can really feature unique items — they don’t have racks and racks of clothing they have to fill. That’s why it’s so important that they buy things that are unique and special and not just the same as what you can get at discount stores,” noted Bridget Faricy of Portal Distribution, distributor of Hi-di-hi and Moshiki brand fashion accessories.
But just like traditional clothing stores, gift shops that do carry fashion and accessories need to be current with what is trending in those categories.
Though gift shops distinguish themselves by carrying harder-to-find items, your merchandise should also reflect styles that consumers have seen featured in popular magazines.
Trends in Apparel
This year, the primary buzzword is comfort: interplay between chic and relaxed. People are looking for “pieces that are relaxed, yet look polished. People love things that are as comfortable to wear as yoga pants but allow them to look pulled together, rather than like they just came from the gym,” said Tina Stephens, owner of the Tampa-based Tina Stephens.
MAD Style out of Chicago has a popular line of “athleisure” clothes. Dubbed MAD Motion, it has partnered with artist Bella Caronia to create artwork in fun, bold colors. “We were the first to introduce this to the gift market, and it has been very well-received,” said CEO Douglas Stein. The company has also created solid pieces to accompany the collection to go from the yoga studio to lunch. He noted that other hot trends for spring are the cold shoulder top and the long vest.
TGB Brands’ Coco + Carmen label also entered the athleisure market earlier this year; a best seller is their Shibori Tie Front Print Cardigan. “Women are not always buying these clothes with the intention of hitting the treadmill or yoga mat; they are wearing them because they are comfortable, attractive and make them feel good about themselves,” said TJ Pierret, director of product development at TGB Brands. They’ve added the Underneath collection, seamless foundation pieces that can be worn alone or complement additional layers.
Another trend in gift shop apparel is one-size-fits-all or one-size-fits-most merchandise. These work well whether a customer is buying a gift for someone or treating herself to a special purchase. For example, Tina Stephens manufactures one-size-fits-most leggings; Tees by Tina Tanks, which come in 75 colors (including the Pantone colors of the year); as well as one-size-fits-most 100-percent cashmere ruanas, which are ponchos that can be worn multiple ways.
MAD Style also manufacturers OSFM clothing, as well as split-sized clothing; this spring it will feature printed Kaftan shawls in a variety of patterns, embellished tunics, leggings, layered skirts, T-shirts and cardigans.
Often, there are no dressing rooms in gift shops, so these types of items take the guesswork out of sizing for the consumer, and storeowners do not need to carry a full size run. Also, pieces that can be tried on over existing clothes are ideal, though it is still advisable to have a full-length mirror in the store.
As for colors, neutrals are selling well, along with soft white, beiges and greys, reports Pierret, Bright colors such as aqua and coral are trending, such as the company’s Lacy Days Crochuet & Tulle Tunic.
“This spring, it’s all about soft delicate colors with Rose petal pink leading the charge,” Stein said.
Trends in Accessories
In addition to apparel, accessories such as handbags, jewelry and scarves do well in gift shops. People want items that are not only pretty but also fun, functional and funky.
One such item that meets those criteria is the cork bag from the Richmond, Virginia-based Calypso Studios, which was released last year to a tremendous reaction. “It started last year in classic cork with a cotton backing on it; it did so well that we started adding fabrics and textures to it,” said co-owner Kathy Lawrence. This year, the company added leatherette accessories.
In addition to neutral tones in handbags that pair well with all outfits, many customers appreciate the earth-friendly aspects of the cork bags. “They like cork because it’s a different medium — we call it the new leather, because as you wear it, it softens up like leather and gets more supple,” said Lawrence.
“Cross body bags in general are on fire,” said Pierret, referring to Coco + Carmen Kacey Messenger bags. Suede and fringe are also bestsellers under that label.
Bella Taylor, manufacturer of cross-body bags, wristlets, handbags, travel bags and scarves, is featuring, new for spring, its first bright canvas line with eccentric prints. It has also launched a sophisticated chic line featuring equestrian and French-inspired designs, with such SKUs as Weekends, Wanderlust Tote, Wide Tote, Rucksack and Cosmetic Case.
Bright colors with geometric or tribal designs are popular, along with bright pastels, turquoise and fuchsia. These colors are “being favorited by buyers for an easy transition out of the dullness of winter,” said Lindsey Johnson, production specialist with Bella Taylor.
As this century moves forward, last century is coming back into vogue. Some groovy products include pieces with a “funky ‘70s vibe with strong graphic elements such as patchwork and texture but that are affordable,” said Faricy. For example, Hi-di-Hi’s Back-to-School collection incorporates patchwork motifs into its handbags with graphic elements, while their materials are soft, faux leather in a softer color pallet with warm but slightly muted colors.
Versatility. Do-it-Yourself. Individuality. Those are the key concepts in jewelry, including the brand new MiaSol by Coco+Carmen a do-it-yourself, interchangeable jewelry line, built on its successful Ginger Snaps and Gingersnaps Petites lines, that feature coins and lockets — very trendy in Europe now — that can switch out for a new look with each wearing. Another bestseller is their Signature Convertible Necklace that combines three necklaces for layering or can be worn individually.
Calypso’s faith-inspired jewelry sells out in inspirational stores and hospital gift shops, among other places. These are hand-squeezed artisan-made clay crosses in an array of designs. These also come in smaller versions that can be clipped to purses or backpacks or kept in pockets.