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Apple Fashion Accessories A Boon for Small Businesses

NEW YORK (TheStreet) - The cottage industry of making accessories for the Apple (AAPL) iPhone and iPad is exploding. From monogrammed iPhone protective cases to messenger bags designed specifically for tablets, small businesses are using consumers' obsession with mobile devices to come up with unique - though not necessarily inexpensive - accessories.

According to ABI Research, the overall handset and tablet accessory market topped $41 billion in 2012. Apple iPad and iPhone accessories represented between $5 billion and $6 billion, or roughly 14% of the market.

"It's a large portion of the accessory market," senior analyst Michael Morgan says.

Broken down by device, consumers spent roughly $37 on accessories per smartphone in 2012, ABI Research says. For tablets, consumers spent between $40 and $50 on accessories per device.

Apple's iPhone "really did start the protective case trend," Morgan says, adding that approximately 75% of users also purchase cases for their phones.

Small retailers are looking to make a name for themselves in this ever-burgeoning market.

"Just go on Etsy. It's the new craft. Instead of making pot holders you're making [smartphone] cases," Morgan says.

"The good ones tend to have something that's differentiated and defensible. If you make a case and you put jewels on it, there's nothing to prevent Joe from down the street from doing the same thing. Let's say you have access to a proprietary material," that would limit design copying, Morgan says.

Some key tips stand out for attacking the aftermarket accessory industry:

1. First and foremost, make sure your product is unique yet functional.

Stash Bags' owner and designer Mari Forssell says she tries to not pay too much attention to what the competition is doing and focuses on her own innovative designs.

Her products include smartphone cases, Amazon (AMZN) Kindle, Barnes and Noble (BKS) Nook cases, iPad and iPad Mini cases, MacBook Air cases, camera bags and laptop bags.

Although she does follow tech blogs and other tech-related news for latest gadgets and market information, the products are a result of Forssell's entrepreneurial spirit and her Finnish background.

"Stash specializes in handmade laptop messenger bags and camera bags [with a] vintage style combined with Scandinavian simplicity, using vintage fabrics whenever possible. All products are handmade from start to finish in the Stash studio in Dallas using quality materials and attention to detail to ensure a durable and stylish Stash bag," Forssell says.

Forssell credits social media sites including Facebook (FB) and pinning Web site, Pinterest, as a "great source of new customers." Most of her products are sold on Etsy.

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