Cherokee Stretching Out: A sportswear firm tries its hand at accessories.

The Cherokee Group, Sunland, Calif., is establishing a presence in the accessories market. The sportswear firm is taking its name into handbags, belts, small leather goods and watches this year and is exploring the possibility of adding sunglasses and fashion jewelry.

Cherokee executives do not fear the competitiveness of the burgeoning accessories market because they feel they are filling a niche with their brand name at moderate prices.

“Most of the latest accessories entries are designer names. We are going after a different audience, at a moderate price point,” said Joseph Gaspers, president of marketing and licensing.

“We are starting an extensive accessories business, targeted at the Cherokee customer,” said Gaspers. He projected first-year accessories sales of $7 million.

The firm has licensed its name to small artisan-type firms to produce the accessories, with the exception of the handbags, which are made by Sirco International, Mt. Vernon, N.Y. Cherokee has also hired a marketing firm that will handle sales and marketing of the accessories, excluding handbags.

Alan Bobin, vice president of sales and marketing for licensing at Cherokee, said, “We approached top retailers across the country to find the best resources we could to produce the accessories. We found companies that specialize in each classification, but who needed exposure through a brand name.”

The handbags and small leathergoods are being produced by Sirco, the watches by Clox Time Design, Inc., Fallbrook, Calif., and belts by Streets & Avenues, Inc., Santa Monica, Calif. SKU, Santa Ana, Calif., is the sales and marketing firm responsible for the watches, belts and small leathergoods.

Bobin said the firm ultimately would like to see a shop-within-a-store concept, housing all the Cherokee accessories together in department stores — though retailers, he said, want to wait and see how the accessories perform before committing a lot of space.

The accessories lines will coordinate to a degree. Gaspers said, “Each licensee will design their line, but Cherokee will have total approval. The accessories lines will all coordinate and project the Cherokee image.” For example, the belts and watches will use some of the same leathers and beading.

The accessories will also go along with the firm’s sportswear and swimwear as much as possible. The watch firm, for example, has created a beach group, which uses the colors that are featured in the swimwear line.

The bags wholesale from $8 to $40 and small leathergoods, from $4 to $12. Sirco produces the goods in the Orient and is launching both lines in the March market for fall I delivery. There are about 25 handbag styles and 20 small leather goods styles, all made of leather, vinyl or fabric.

The watches, which use Swiss movements and are assembled in Hong Kong, wholesale from $18 to $24. The firm launched 15 styles for the November market. The watches have brass cases and a variety of bands, including beaded and braided leather.

The belts wholesale from $8 to $22 and are made in California. Twelve belt styles were launched in the November market with 15 different buckles, which are all registered Cherokee designs.