Prints Charming: Echo Design Group

Fashion is having a major print and pattern moment and a major retro moment, and Echo Design Group couldn’t be happier. The 88-year-old, second- , third-, and fourth-generation fashion accessories company has remained true to its original mission of providing innovative print and pattern scarves and fashion accessories. What gives it an edge is that it can turn to its extensive print archives for inspiration and source material.

Accessories caught up with Dorothy Roberts, chairman; Steven Roberts, CEO; and Lynn Roberts, director of communications, to discuss the aggressive direction the company has taken. Echo has been adding new classifications and divisions at a rapid clip, turning it into a major lifestyle brand known for its signature prints. In addition to a home division, which has grown rapidly since its 1992 introduction, Echo has been building up its fashion.

In 2008, Echo launched Echo Beach, featuring cover-ups, wraps, pareos, sundresses, beach bags, lined bikini bags, sunhats and more. Based on its success, Echo launched Echo Swim in 2010, bringing matching and coordinating prints to bathing suits.

Last year, Echo branched out further with a dedicated soft handbag line, which incorporates scarf prints, color and easy functionality. For Fall 2012, which is the category’s second season, Echo is expanding the breadth of the line. For fall, materials include heavier fabrications—such as a newly introduced printed wool blend.

“We’re playing with the materials we know well,” says Steven Roberts. “We’re using print and developing our perspective on fashion and trend. No one needs a plain leather handbag from us.” Bags retail from $58 to $148.

Vintage Va-Voom

New Echo Vintage top line

One of the most valuable things at Echo is its extensive print archive, which the company is making active use of with the Echo Vintage collection. “I remember when these prints were around the first time,” says Dorothy Roberts, pointing to the vintage-style logo that was the original tag. “But we updated the prints to make them more modern—some are re-colored, others are more referential.” What’s really fun is seeing vintage fabric prints on the newly launched iPad cases—something the original print designers obviously never imagined.

Fashion accessories have become very item-driven, and the Echo Vintage makes good use of this. One new item is a fabric collar that utilizes a vintage dot print on the outside and a graphic print in the inside, adding a fun retro twist to any outfit. Another option is a “faux” leather. Also new is the narrow “kite” neckerchief, which is a narrow elongated diamond that offers a splash of color and pattern with virtually no bulk.

Echo Vintage also introduced silk twill shirt dresses, tanks and tees, which can serve as colorful layering pieces. All are sized S, M, L with suggested retails from $115 to $198.

Echo is also having fun with faux fur—lining fur scarves with colorful vintage fabrics and creating fur e-reader cases as well. Fun coldweather items include fur earmuffs with a colorful patterned knit band, as well as new technologically advanced products.

Echo has always aimed to be on the forefront of technology: The Echo Touch Glove was first in a category that rapidly became a coldweather staple. While Echo Touch started out with a broad color palette, it has further expanded with enhancements such as cashmere blends with touch-tips to all-over conductive yarns that eliminate the need for an actual sewn-in pad at the tips.

Newest in the tech category are Echo Warmers—new ultra lightweight knits made from special yarns that are designed to insulate and create warmth utilizing the wearer’s own body heat. “This is a perfect product for the winter as it keeps the wearer warm without chunky knits or bulk,” says Steven, who notes this product also opened the door to outdoor and fashionable athletic apparel stores. “We’re designing for her active lifestyle. We’re adding performance elements to our fashion products.”

And while a warm winter might make retail buyers skittish about buying heavy knits, Echo entices with design and functionality. Echo also recently developed a new type of yarn made out of milk protein fibers. According to the company, this is natural, sustainable and softer than cashmere.

Another area of growth for Echo is its outerwear business, which includes faux fur and shearling vests, capes, ponchos, sweater coats and more. “Outerwear is a sleeper business,” says Dorothy. “Southern climates can wear it all year long.” And with unpredictable winters up North, layering is key. “We’re even bringing back the knit dickie!”

All this diversification has allowed Echo to thrive in department stores while also expanding its specialty store business here and abroad (a global initiative includes seven distributors covering 10 countries). “Our specialty store business was up over 30 percent this year,” says Steven.

Echo sells directly to consumers via its website EchoDesign.com, which was launched about four years ago and has relaunched this year with a new look.

“We’re making an effort for branded boutiques in stores if possible, or even free-standing stores,” says Steven, pointing out the company’s pop-up shop in Hong Kong this past April. “It’s a great way for us to show how our offerings—from fashion to home—all work together. We’re really growing with customers who are connecting all the Echo dots.” Or shall we say, prints.

 

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Lauren Parker, Accessories Magazine

Lauren Parker, Editor-in-Chief, Accessories Magazine
As Editor-in-Chief of Accessories Magazine for the past 12 years, Lauren Parker has covered accessories both from a retail business perspective and a fashion point of view. In previous full-time magazine jobs and freelance gigs, she’s written about practically every angle of fashion lifestyle living, including women's fashion accessories, fine jewelry, Caribbean travel, private jets, Hampton’s real estate, the New York art scene, the bridal industry, men’s lifestyle and being a mom. She loves meeting designers and seeing how their latest offerings capture the current zeitgeist and fit into the entire cultural and social picture.