Thu, Oct 19, 2006 - Page 13 News List

Cell phone fashions trump technology

As cell phones become a fashion accessory and a means of self-expression, how a phone looks is becoming as importants as what it does

By Joanne Viviano  /  AP , COLUMBUS, OHIO

Nicki, 10, left, and her 11-year-old sister Melissa Murphy, right show off their cell phone cases in Delaware, Ohio. Between them is their mother Marcia Murphy. The Murphys represent a fashion trend marketers are tapping into as they offer mobile phones with sleeker designs and in more colors, such as blue and pink, and accessories ranging from charms and stickers to crystals and tiny designer purses.

PHOTO: AP

For Denise Albert, choosing a cell phone has nothing to do with ring tones, instant messages or megapixels.

“To me, it's what it looks like,” said Albert, a 53-year-old campaign fundraiser from suburban Powell. “I want a good design. Period.”

Albert represents a fashion trend marketers are tapping into as they offer mobile phones with sleeker designs and in more colors, such as blue and pink, and accessories ranging from charms and stickers to crystals and tiny designer purses. While some accessories are for necessity — such as in-car chargers — others are for personalization.

“Where we had A or B, now we have A through Z,” said Neil Strother, research director for mobile devices at The NPD Group market research firm.

Cell phone accessories — from decorations, to holsters to handsfree devices — bring in US$1billion a year at the retail level in the US and the market is growing 10 percent to 15 percent annually, said Roger Entner, a Boston-based analyst with the market research firm Ovum.

“These things have a 70- to 80-percent profit margin. They're a real moneymaker,” he said. “And it's growing rapidly because Americans see cell phones more and more as items for self expression.” Sprint has teamed up with Dooney & Burke to offer purses that take the place of cell phone cases — an Italian crocodile leather wristlet was listed at US$124.99on the Sprint Web site.

A few bucks can buy a charm featuring Hello Kitty, SpongeBob, the SuperGirl logo or other designs at a Claire's accessory shop or one of many Internet sites.

“We see girls decorating their phones and, a week later, they take everything off and decorate it differently,” said Chuck Strottman, director of marketing for Tween Brands Inc, based in the Columbus suburb of New Albany.

The kid-sized, oval Firefly Mobile phone sold well last holiday season at Tween Brands' Limited Too stores, which market to girls ages 7 to 14, he said. Girls can change the phone's look with patterned, translucent and glow-in-the dark shells.

Accessory sales — especially charms, stickers, faceplates — account for about 10 percent of business at Adam Anolik's Wireless Zone store in Philadelphia. He said popular logos are of the Philadelphia Eagles and other sports teams and fashion brands such as Baby Phat.

Another big seller is the US$125 Bling Ring kit that features high-priced Swarovski brand crystals. For an additional US$100 to US$300, the store will do the designing — attaching hundreds of the small, round crystals to the phone, often in a pattern: initials, numbers or stripes.

Some women buy the kits for bridesmaid gifts, and men — who are more drawn to black crystals — also are buying into the trend, Anolik said.

Marcia Murphy, of Delaware in central Ohio, decorated her leather cell phone case with pink and silver removable adhesive sequins to match her pink Motorola MOTORAZR phone. Murphy's daughters, ages 10 and 11, also used the sequins to decorate the case for the cell phone they share.

“Anything for bling, as far as they're concerned,” said Murphy, 44. “I guess I'm a little bit for bling as well.” Thom Richmond, director of handset product development for Disney Mobile, based in North Hollywood, California, credits Nokia as leading the way with mobile phone fashion accessories by introducing faceplates in the mid-1990s.

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