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The Unlikely Accessory Giving Fashion and Outdoor Bag Sales a Needed Boost

A symbol of cringe-worthy, tourist fashion, the legacy of the fanny pack—or bum bag, as they say in the U.K—presumed to be doomed. However, the polarizing accessory may have the last laugh.

In the current trend phase, which values comfort and convenience over style, the hands-free bag from the ’80s and ’90s is proving to be a pocket of opportunity for retailers particularly as they head into the holiday season.

The small bag is making a big impact in the outdoor space. Accessories account for a small portion of sales in the outdoor market, but The NPD Group reported that the category grew at the fastest rate this year, thanks to consumers’ renewed interest in bags. Sales for fanny packs increased 52 percent during the 12 months ended August 2018.

“The bag business is being driven by travel and consumers’ affinity for experiential spending, which remains a hot opportunity for the outdoor market,” said Matt Powell, vice president and senior industry advisor of sports for The NPD Group. “An unexpected comeback, the fanny pack is regaining popularity as consumers embrace its convenient, compact and lightweight qualities. Outdoor brands are breathing new life into the product through water resistant fabrics, security features, and adding ‘hip pack’ to its list of names to go by.”

fanny pack
Patagonia Patagonia

Fanny packs are also making a splash in the fashion accessories category. In a blog post, Beth Goldstein, The NPD Group executive director and industry analyst for fashion accessories, reported that the declines in the accessories business over the past three years have leveled out, revealing “clear bright spots” like hands-free bags.

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With designers like Burberry, Fendi and Balenciaga—which are all in the midst of their own streetwear-based revivals—giving fanny packs their seals of approval, the ‘It’ item is trickling into all tiers of retail.

Fanny packs have ranked on Edited’s recent lists of best-selling trends. The retail analysis firm said Q2 should be known as the quarter fanny packs finally became a hit, as new arrivals lifted 120 percent and sellouts grew 359 percent compared to Q2 2017.

The accoutrement has become stylists’ go-to add-on to turn any ordinary outfit into one that speaks directly to Gen Z. And tastemakers are putting their own spin on the belt bag by wearing them as crossbody bags.

fanny pack
The reinvented fanny pack Saira MacLeod/REX/Shutterstock

“Fashion backpacks, fanny/waist packs, crossbody bags and shoulder bags and wallets with convertible straps are helping to offset losses from satchels and totes,” Goldstein wrote. “Consumers have become very passionate about function, so products with more features and brands that promote ease of use and multi-occasion wear this holiday will stand out as offering value, even at high price points.”

The trend lends itself well to another trend to watch: travel accessories. Goldstein reported that the luggage business increased 16 percent so far this year, fueled in part by digitally native brands with top-notch storytelling, like Away and Calpak with its Instagrammable designs and influencer collaborations.

“Consumers are looking for products that make travel easier, and the innovation spanning luggage, bags, and small accessories will propel these products through holiday,” Goldstein noted.