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Thursday, September 13, 2012 - 1:00pm

Savannah Responds To Accessories' Rise

During the economic recession, sales in women's fashion have lagged while sales in their accessories have gained.

Women, it seems, won't spend a fortune on a frock when they could pinch pennies on a purse.

E-commerce websites and television shows also are contributing to an accent on accessories.

Fashion designer Elizabeth Seeger is making a purse to sell at her downtown Savannah handbag store called Satchel.

"We make everything here in-house," says Seeger.

She also added that, "People can come in and see a bag. If they don't like that color, they can pick out their leather, change the shape, the size, the handles."

As she threads, pounds and caresses the bag into shape, she says, she opened to store both fuel her passion and take advantage of a niche in the market.

"People feel like they can't committ to a big investment, like a new car or a new house or remodel," says Seeger.

"They still want to feel like their life is normal and feel good about themselves. And so, its a small purchase that goes a long way," she said.

Retail analysts say, over the past 18 months, the apparel business has slumped as the stubbornly stagnant economy makes women think twice about buying costly outfits.

Sales of accessories -- things handbags, bracelets and shoes have risen by about 2%.

Savannah College of Art and Design Dean of Fashion Michael Fink says, it's enough to make a trend.

"We see so many students come into our fashion program with their eyes set on being a clothing, runway designer. Everybody loves the runway," says Fink. "Who doesn't love to watch a fashion show? But when we start to get into the actual business of design and the opportunities there, there are so many opportunities at this moment, more opportunities, in the world of accessories and we students really switch over into that," he says.

Over the past four years, SCAD, the nation's largest art school, has gone from one-accessories professor to five.

Accessories enrollment has jumped from 10 students to 73 students in the same time.

SCAD accessories design major Sophia Weston says, the time is right for her passion, shoes.

"The accessories design market is booming right now and I'm just getting into it," Weston says. "With the recession and everything, accessories are almost recession proof because you have to wear shoes."

At Fashion's Night Out, a giant downtown street party for fashion in Savannah, lots of well-dressed women brave the humid evening air to show off their style.

Models walk down runways in one of the city's unique art festivals.

Adorned with a gold chain and a few bracelets, Amy Rowland of Savannah says, she sees the accents as a budget-conscious extention of her wardrobe.

"You could really change your outfit by just changing the jewelry," says Rowland. "I feel like you also get more wear out of your jewelry because one piece you can wear with several. You could wear it three of four times a week which you obviously wouldn't do with an outfit."

Sporting a straw hat, a choker necklace and one big bracelet that looks like six-separate bracelets, Brittany Rozier of Pooler says, her look isn't complete without accessories.

"Well accessories really make the outfit," Rozier says. "You know, you can put something on and it's nice, but unless you have accessories, you know to make the outfit pop, it really won't be as appealing as you want it to."

Top designers are opening accessories lines responding to these kind of woman-on-the-street opinoins.

Blogs, websites and even old-school cable TV and fashion print media also have new accessories content.

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