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Ideas for Jewelry & Accessory Businesses
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The issue of new five dollar bills prompted a friend to send me a picture of one with a slight alteration.  The right hand corner read “Good for one gallon of gas”.  Humorous as it was, this is on many retailers’ minds. 

A recent comment to our blog from Tom makes the point:  “We are, (or, at least, for the sake of this question), entering a time of expensive energy for our homes, our cars, and many other items that we take for granted. It will affect our lifestyles in ways more profound than the “Oil Shock” of the 1970’s. How were fashion trends in accessories and jewelry impacted then and how do you see them being affected now? Do people get more fashion-conscious or do they retract in such areas?”

To answer, my business specialized in American Indian jewelry in the late seventies and I was green at it and gave no thought to the economy effecting business (this may be an advantage to new people in the industry).  There was a short period when gas was limited to 10 gallons per customer and lines could be a block long waiting to get to the pump.  I don’t remember any reluctance of people to flood out to shows and festivals or retailers to stock merchandise because of fuel costs. 

Runaway inflation was also part of the picture with mortgages commanding double digit interest rates.  Even this didn’t seem to be a factor.  The problem for all businesses based on sterling silver like American Indian jewelry came in 1979 and it had nothing to do with the economy.  The Hunt brothers tried to corner the silver market and ran the price from around $4.00 per ounce to around $50.00 per ounce, which meant wholesalers could easily sell their inventory, but couldn’t replace it so many went into other businesses. 

All this happened in the Midwest where they felt the pinch of gas prices, but in South Louisiana it was boom times because of offshore drilling.  There was more work than workers and a joke passing around Morgan City said anyone hitchhiking through town would be picked up and sent out on an oil rig.  Then in 1983 oil prices plunged and ushered in the “oil bust”.  Unemployment in the oil-dependent cities loomed around Great Depression figures and in this setting I restarted my business, which grew every year and peaked in 1990.  Growth was based on local business because the internet was not there to provide wide exposure. 

Actually in January of 1984 the greatest phenomenon that I ever experienced in fashion jewelry took place–twist bead clasptwist beads.  Retailers needed only these 33 inch strands of beads and twist bead clasps to have phenomenal business.  Women would rush to a retail outlet and spend sixty or eighty dollars on their lunch hour.  Twist beads started in January and were over in May, but I have never seen an item sell like that.  Remember this is the year after the oil bust. 

By 1995 the news was raving about a great economy, but fashion was dictating a natural look with minimal jewelry.  This was dire news for the fashion jewelry industry that thrived on bold statements and color.  Players were dropping out of the fashion jewelry chain from manufacturers to retailers.  Survivors had to change course.  We entered the thriving tourist industry with a line geared to local tourist destinations.  This at least stopped the bleeding.  The fashion jewelry business went south, not because of the economy, but because of fashion trends.

These are my experiences that leave me believing fashion trumps the economy in this industry.  Department stores have an old adage called “the lipstick effect”.  Basically this is women don’t quit buying; they just buy lower priced items like “lipstick”.  Personally, I believe the average fashion retailer will enjoy continued business, some of it coming from money previously spent on luxury goods. 

The stage is set for success with trends favoring bold looks and color.  Only fashion jewelry delivers thesebold fashion jewelry ingredients and will continue in demand.  Fashion is our field and not energy so we don’t claim any expertise in solving the fuel problem, but we can see strong attention focused on alternative fuels with coal conversion high on the list.  Several countries have good coal deposits and the US has more than anyone so this could the fuel of the future.  Some believe the gas price is a bubble ready to break.  For more on this see The “Now” in Fashion Jewelry & Accessories and check out the links.

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