Retail in Asia


Instagrammable bags worth billions in retail sales

Instagrammable bags worth billions in retail sales

Search #cultgaia on Instagram and you’ll find over 12,600 posts dedicated to the young brand, whose $128 “Ark” clutch has become an influencer favourite over the past two seasons.

Cult Gaia’s success is just one example of how a new wave of competitively-priced, emerging brands is breaking into the handbag category, which was worth €44 billion ($48 billion) in retail sales in 2016 according to Bain.

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This shift was first ignited by the success of Mansur Gavriel in 2012. The New York-based accessory brand’s leather bucket became the first post-recession “It” bag, paving the way for labels including Cult Gaia, Staud and Danse Lente.

Like Mansur Gavriel, all three brands have a distinctive aesthetics, an accessible price point and a powerful Instagram presence that has captured the attention of consumers and influential stockists alike.

“It is never been cooler to wear an unknown or emerging brand,” says Lisa Aiken, retail fashion director at The Net-a-Porter Group.

“When we launched Mansur Gavriel we had no idea that the contemporary bag market would change so significantly as a result.

This brand gave customers a taste for luxury-looking, super cool bags at an entry price point.”

Aiken says many of Net-a-Porter’s newer contemporary bag brands — increasingly discovered on Instagram — sell out within weeks, sometimes days, with sell-through rates of up to 100 percent.

The result is a surge in popularity for labels like Muun, Manu Atelier, Building Block and Catzorange, as well as Cult Gaia, Staud and Danse Lente, all of which sell for between $180 and $700.

Also contributing to the popularity of niche handbag brands is increased consumer demand for the unique and hard-to-find.

“This emerging group of designers are developing products that identify with today’s consumer by offering uniqueness and exclusivity that has been diluted in the luxury handbag market,” says Sara Wong, divisional merchandise manager at Peddar Group, which is responsible for the buy of all bags, shoes and accessories at Lane Crawford.

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Wong says the retailer may double — even triple — its buy of niche brands next season to support its customers’ demands. “Having the right bag now is more important than having the most expensive bag,” she says.

For these emerging brands, selling wholesale to influential retailers is a valuable tool for authoritative brand exposure. But it is direct-to-consumer sales, driven by social media, that is proving key to growth.