All shapes and sizes

by Elise Diamantini

While there’s no one trend in bags, the entire category is on fire!

Men’s bags are having a moment. While still only a small part of contemporary men’s business, retailers are predicting much potential for growth and planning increases for next year. Whether it’s because men carry around more “stuff” with them (iPads, mobile devices, laptops, etc.), or because they care about putting together an overall “look,” one thing is certain: bags are the hot new accessory.

Eric Jennings at Saks Fifth Avenue attributes the increases to the current “renaissance in menswear.” He explains, “Guys are paying more attention to details when they get dressed in the morning. And as men’s clothing silhouettes have gotten slimmer, they don’t want bulky phones and wallets throwing off their look. This is also why we are seeing a general slimming down of bags, wallets and belts right now.”

And because men are also carrying bags for functional reasons, they have to be…functional. Jennings notes that super-basic styles are not selling and important design features like technology pockets, shoulder straps and zippers are a must. “Men’s tote bags with shoulder straps are grabbing market share and becoming the new messenger bag. Between $350 and $595 retail seems to be the sweet spot. Luxury leather is still doing well, but nylons are performing due to functionality and accessible price points.”

Other popular styles include backpacks, weekenders and duffles in all types of materials (canvas, waxed canvas, wool or traditional menswear fabrics, leather and faux leather). Karmaloop’s men’s buyer Fabiano Amorim is predicting substantial growth next year (upwards of 100 percent) and having success with brands like Herschel, Obey, Pendleton, Fjallraven, Rothco, Hex, Flud and Burton from $25 to $300 retail. “Brands have updated traditional styles with on-trend colorways and prints. Bags are a great way [for a customer] to distinguish his personal style, and he can carry his entire life in them!” says Amorim.

JackThreads, a flash-sale website, also had a good year with bags. Its founder, Jason Ross, notes that bag sales are up 150 percent over last year. He says that growth matches a larger trend in the overall men’s business. “We’ve changed our merchandise quite a bit in the last 12 months in order to tap into the contemporary market. Last year, our accessories department was heavily focused around streetwear brands, but we’ve been introducing a wider assortment of product at a broader range of prices ($15 to $300 retail), new brands (8th Line, Block, Buxton, William Rast and John Varvatos) and styles. Currently, about 70 percent of our bag sales come from contemporary brands. Based on this year’s success, we’re investing a great deal in bags and making them a bigger priority among our private label brands.” Ross says that while there are no specific best-selling styles, messengers and weekenders always do well in leather, faux leather and canvas.

On the West Coast, men’s specialty retailer LASC is experiencing increases in their bag business: 10 percent over last year and planning up. “The accessory business has shown healthy increases overall for us,” explains co-owner Don Zuidema. “Men’s jewelry, ties, hats and other ‘impulse’ purchases are selling. We’re doing well with brands like Ben Sherman, Fred Perry, G-Star, and specialty product from Nike. Nylon is always strong, as is faux leather, with price points starting at about $75 up to around $195. Styles like duffles, messengers and some backpacks are all selling.”

For fall 2013, retailers should spice up the floor by bringing in an assortment of bags in different styles and colors. Show customers all of the functional aspects and how bags can complete their entire look. As Jennings predicts, “If brands continue to evolve designs in terms of functionality, masculine aesthetics and newness in color, the business will be in good shape.”

What’s in your bag?

Don Zuidema, LASC
I have a great black leather Diesel messenger bag that has worn in and only gets better with age. It serves as my “catchall” for almost anything I need during the day. One zipper pocket has change for the meters in LA, Burt’s Bees lip balm, keys for mailboxes and the store and business cards. In the main compartment I carry my large yellow legal pad that I always make notes on, along with sell-through reports, proposals and those “important papers” that seem to always find their way into the bag.

Eric Jennings, Saks Fifth Avenue
Right now I’m carrying an ultra-slim portfolio from Glenroyal made in Scotland out of black bridal leather. The leather on the inside is burgundy, and it’s got small telescoping handles so that when you pull them out it looks like a slim briefcase. Inside the bag I’ve got a pen from the Hotel Principe in Milan, my apartment keys, Chapstick, business cards, Altoid mints, receipts from yesterday’s trip to Miami for an event at our Bal Harbour store, and a trade newspaper. Easy breezy!

Jason Ross, JackThreads
Whether I’m using it as a briefcase, gym bag or weekender for my frequent trips to NYC—the Goodale “JFK to LAX Duffle” is my go-to bag. Inside, you’ll find: an iPhone and charger, Macbook Pro and iPad, a book (right now it’s Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson), Mosley Tribes Lyndel sunglasses, change of clothes for the gym, Beats by Dre Studio Headphones, an autographed picture of Ben Lerer (Thrillist CEO) and a New York City subway map. (I’m still trying to figure this city out!)

Edward Armah, designer
I love my Lambertson Truex leather briefcase: I’ve had it for four years and it gets better with age. In it, I keep my life: iPad, notepad, business cards, flashlight, power charger, gloves, calculator, calendar, journal, toothbrush/toothpaste, plus lots of samples from my current collection. It’s perhaps a little heavy but there’s nothing I can live without!