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After a quick glance at the parents in the …

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Summer’s hottest bracelet proves once again how fast-growing accessory fads can be a retailer’s best friend.

After a quick glance at the parents in the Earnshaw’s office, it’s clear the watch is no longer the de rigueur wrist accessory—instead it’s a woven rubber bracelet crafted by the kiddos at home. That’s because the Rainbow Loom, a nifty little device that allows kids to create everything from rubber rings to mini handbags, is the hottest toy of the summer. Friendship bracelets and Silly Bandz are so last year.

Off-the-charts popularity and skyrocketing sales weren’t always the case for the Rainbow Loom. In a truly inspiring retail tale, the toy’s inventor struggled to sell the kit for a couple of years, until it was picked up by Learning Express Stores, which owns 130 franchises across the U.S. Now, the Rainbow Loom is one of the chain’s bestselling toys of 2013.

If accessory fads seem to come and go more quickly than other children’s categories, there’s a good reason for it: “It is the most affordable way to update one’s fashion,” notes Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group. “Kids, too, are learning how to update on a budget.”

According to Cohen’s data, sales of accessories for children under 12 are projected to climb by 3 percent in 2013—even though overall volume is down. Why? “Either the accessories parents are buying are a little more elaborate, which is true, or the promotions are less frequent, which is also true,” Cohen speculates. “The product is a little more elaborate or a little more labor intensive or a little more exciting.”

We can definitely agree that children’s accessories are more exciting as of late. Just check out all of the stellar accessories brands that nabbed an Earnie Award this year: Chewbeads, for Best Accessories and “It” Item of the Year, Liv & Lily for Best New Company and Tadpole and Lily for Best Made in the USA Collection. (Check out p. 10 for a full list of winners.) All of those brands offer a new spin—be it fresh design or a clever concept—on the standard hair bow, necklace or hat. Even tried-and-true brands like Wee Ones are getting in on the act, updating their classic hair accessories with a new no-slip technology (p. 67). And if that’s not enough proof, just check out the dainty Parisian-inspired baubles on our new Bejeweled page, perfect for tweenaged Francophiles (p. 34).

Exciting yes, but even for the most agile retailers, it can be a lot to manage. “The accessory business is always one where you have to be nimble,” Cohen points out. “You have to be ready to change direction and have a broad enough assortment to keep kids’ interest. One of the keys is to really learn how to read trends early,” he notes.

It’s certainly no easy task, but the payoff of keeping your eyes peeled for the Next Big Thing can certainly be worth it. Just ask Learning Express Stores.

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