By  on July 10, 2007

TOKYO — St. John is developing its business in the Japanese market with more freestanding and outlet stores, as well as shops-in-shops in department stores.

St. John, based in Irvine, Calif., began doing business in the Japanese market in 1987. In 1999, when a majority stake in St. John in the U.S. was sold to private equity firm Vestar Capital, the apparel company took full control of its Japanese subsidiary. Since then, its Japanese business has been growing gradually, even though the brand';s image isn';t fully established in the market yet.

"The identity of St. John is 'the power suit'; for women who have jobs and active roles in society. It is our aim for Japanese women to understand our brand as something that shows their status," said Yasutada Oda, representative director and president of St. John Co. Ltd.

St. John, famous for its high-quality knit dresses and suits, is popular among top female executives in the U.S. In Japan, it is also popular among a more mature age group. However, its attempt to rejuvenate too quickly led to a sales decline at the group for the fiscal period that ended in October 2006.

During that period, Marie Gray, co-founder and designer of the line, had left the company, but has since returned as designer, beginning with this year';s pre-fall collection. She is helping to increase the Japanese business as well, said Oda. "As there are no competing brands in Japan, it is very important for us to send out our new messages," said Oda.

Presently, St. John has a flagship in Ginza, 15 shops-in-shops in department stores and one outlet store. In 2008, it plans to open eight more shops-in-shops and two outlet stores, with a sales goal of 3 billion yen, or $24.4 million, up 150 percent from the prior year. In 2009, the company plans to have 37 stores, including freestanding shops, and to increase sales by 180 percent. Last year, St. John Japan named Hideki Funauchi from Ferragamo Japan as director of sales.

The company will introduce accessories in 2008 under a global license. In addition to jewelry, it will offer shoes and bags with Stuart Weitzman, and eyewear with Visibilia SpA of Italy, strengthening its visibility and branding in the Japanese market.

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