Leather bag sales decline in favour of activewear alternatives

For the second year in a row, leather bag sales have declined and nylon and other fabric options are now driving significant growth for the US women’s bag market, according to retail tracking service The NPD Group.

According to the group’s analysis, the same casual athleisure wear trend that continues to drive growth in the active apparel and sport leisure footwear markets is starting to influence women’s fashion accessories.

While leather still accounted for more than half of dollar sales in the women’s bag market as of the 12 months ending March this year, its decline accounted for 60 per cent of the category’s falling sales. Vinyl accounted for 20 per cent of market and 30 per cent of the declining sales.

Much smaller in terms of overall sales, nylon, polyester, and cotton options accounted for just 11 per cent of all women’s bag dollar sales, but accounted for almost 90 per cent of the growth this past year.

“Today, fashion is as much about comfort as it is about personal style, and that is carrying over into the way consumers are accessorising,” said The NPD Group fashion footwear and accessories industry analyst Beth Goldstein. “Women’s bags in new silhouettes and new materials are driving the industry forward.”

Traditional leather silhouettes, such as shoulder bags, cross-body bags, totes, shoppers, and satchels, are all contributing to leather bag declines. These styles account for 90 per cent of total women’s leather bag sales by value, and drove as large a share of the losses during the year to March. The smaller, fast-growing categories of fanny/waist packs and fashion backpacks remain strong, as does leather in the designer space – but designer non-leather/non-vinyl alternatives grew at a faster rate and generated almost as many incremental dollars as did leather.

Both established and emerging brands are promoting nylon and other alternative materials, such as “vegan leather”, neoprene and recycled options that may be lighter in weight and easier to clean than leather items. These options can appeal to a consumer looking for day-to-day practicality, as well as those looking for sustainable purchases.


“New leather goods are facing competition from a multitude of angles – from the casualisation of today’s styles to the emphasis on sustainability, and a changing retail market that is helping to extend the life of pre-owned leather products,” said Goldstein.

“At the same time, the recent focus on alternative materials and new styles signals opportunity for the fashion accessories market – the opportunity to capture the consumer’s attention again.”

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