Man-bags: A key accessories trend to watch

man bag

Man-bags have hit a tipping point where they’re now mainstream rather than niche among Millennials and Gen Z. Some 24% of British males aged 16-34 bought one last year, a survey of 2,000 consumers has shown.

Researchers at Mintel said it contrasts sharply to just 16% owning one in 2016. And while younger consumers are in the lead in man-bag adoption, their popularity is growing across the age range with one in seven UK males overall (15%) buying one in 2017.

That still puts men well behind women with 54% of British females having acquired a bag last year. But the increased adoption among men has helped the handbag market account for 50% of fashion accessory sales, outperforming all other fashion accessory categories and growing by 5.5% during 2017 to reach £1.45bn. That’s a rise on £1.37bn in 2016.

While the term man-bag was originally applied to messenger or satchel-type bags, in this context, Mintel is using it for all categories of bags men are carrying on a just-about-daily basis, which means the ubiquitous backpack gets in on the act.

Senior fashion analyst Tamara Sender said: “Man-bags have become increasingly accepted by Britain’s men. There has been a growing trend for backpack-style bags, many of which are unisex in style and, therefore, appeal to young men.”

Gender lines blurring

It underlines a sharp change in thinking between young and older men. They may both wear similar clothes and shoes much of the time, but just as younger men have adopted more so-called feminine elements in their grooming routines, they’re also more willing to adopt the bag habit that was once almost exclusively female territory.

Mintel’s Sender also said the appeal of bags to younger men has benefitted the premium end of the market, as the firm’s research has found they favour buying aspirational labels for themselves over own-brand bags. “We’re also seeing more designer brands investing in their menswear offering, with Stella McCartney adding menswear for the first time in late 2016, which includes different styles of man-bags,” she added.

And Mintel said designer handbag sales as a whole have benefitted from rising inbound tourism spend as more overseas consumers visited the UK in 2017, taking advantage of the more favourable exchange rate following the EU referendum.

It’s interesting that the research also showed as many as 40% of fashion accessory purchasers say that they would be willing to pay more for these items if they’re made in the UK. That’s particularly the case for the more affluent AB socio-economic group. “This forms part of a larger trend for consumers placing greater importance on provenance and expecting more transparency from the fashion industry,” Sender said.

That’s good news for luxury and premium brands from Burberry to Anya Hindmarch, Mulberry, Paul Smith and The Cambridge Satchel Company that have a strong British image and an equally strong man-bag offer.

So where are men buying their man-bags (and women buying their handbags)? Well it seems that fashion accessories in general are migrating online faster than clothing categories. Some 52% of fashion accessories shoppers make their purchases online, peaking among Millennials (59%).

Pureplay e-tailers are their favourite places to buy fashion accessories online, with 59% of online shoppers buying from one of these websites.

Last year, Britons spent £2.9bn on fashion accessories overall, with the market growing 3.6% between 2016-17, up from £2.8bn in 2016. Over the past five years, sales of fashion accessories have increased 21%.

The top five accessories bought by Britons in 2017 were handbags and man-bags (34%), belts (27%), scarves (23%), gloves (21%), and hats (21%).

Subscribers, we recommend our report on Gen Z Masculinity.

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