SIC 3171 Women's Handbags and Purses


SIC 3171

This classification includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing women's handbags and purses of leather or other materials, except precious metals. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing precious metal handbags and purses are classified in SIC 3911: Jewelry, Precious Metal.



Women's Handbag and Purse Manufacturing


The women's handbag and purse industry produces all women's handbags and purses of leather and other materials, except precious metals. Approximately 66 percent of the domestic handbags shipped in the United States in the mid-2000s were made of leather. Handbag shipments declined steadily from the late 1990s into the twenty-first century due mainly to competition from imports. Total shipments equaled $287 million in 1997, $246 million in 2000, and only $120 million in 2002. Total industry employment plunged from the 1997 figure of 3,492 workers to just 1,447 by 2002. The total value of women's handbags and purses that were exported by the United States in 2002 equaled only $56 million, whereas the value of imports totaled $1.3 billion.


Historically, women have made most of their handbag purchases at boutique specialty stores and department stores. Consumers in the purse and handbag industry most often made handbag purchases on the basis of designer recognition and style. During the 1980s, consumers took great interest in their appearance and became slightly extravagant. Sales of high-priced and mid-range brands, such as Coach and Dooney & Bourke, proliferated. Personal consumption of handbags and other apparel accessories nearly doubled in the 1980s, with an average annual growth rate of 7.3 percent. Then, hurt by the recession, weak growth in disposable income, and high unemployment, consumers became much more cost-conscious.

Along with these economic changes came changes in consumer psychology. Designer names, high-priced accessories, and frequent shopping sprees were not as popular as they once were. Consumers became more value conscious and began purchasing less expensive products at lower-end retail establishments and mass merchandisers. A writer for Footwear News indicated that leather buying habits started shifting to form, function, and comfort, away from designer names.

Despite the recessionary economy, however, Coach and Dooney & Bourke products, which ranged from just above $100 to more than $400, remained consistently strong performers. But other high-priced segments of the handbag business have not fared as well. High-priced lines like Liz Claiborne stumbled badly at the retail counters. Many experts attribute the success of Coach and Dooney & Bourke to the lines' classic/casual styling versus Liz Claiborne's dressier appearance.

Shoppers changed their handbag buying habits throughout the early 1990s. Consumer purchasing shifted toward the most basic, functional accessories. Rather than purchasing a handbag to match each outfit—the pattern during the first three-quarters of the twentieth century—shoppers began purchasing a single handbag versatile enough to match many outfits. This pattern reflected a more value-oriented consumer, as well as an aging population seeking comfort and casualness. In the past several years, many mass merchandisers have added more recognizable national brand names to their in-store inventory. In the past, most brand names were distributed only through department stores.

In 1992 specialty and department store retailers were optimistic about the growth of the handbag category, according to Stores Magazine. At the time, retailers were predicting increases in...

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