By  on February 5, 2007

NEW YORK — Richard Chai is stepping on the accelerator with a little help from new friends.

SK Networks Co. Ltd. took a minority stake in the New York-based label earlier this month. The plan is to help grow the designer's global distribution and profile, particularly in Asia, where the South Korean firm also markets lines such as Donna Karan and DKNY.

Chai, himself Korean-American, sees the development as an opportunity to take his two-year-old label to the next level. "It has been growing in a steady way," the designer, who is presenting his fall collection on Feb. 7, said of his business, which launched for spring 2005. "In the beginning it was about explaining my philosophy and being creative and having fun, so I knew the business side would take time."

That time, it seems, is arriving with the financial backing SK Networks has promised for Chai. "Our initial plan is to establish a business task force consisting of top-notch professionals through investment," said Chang-Kyu Lee, SK Networks' executive vice president. "We will provide the company with financial aids and the establishment of global distribution channels."

Before branching out on his own, Chai was the creative design director for Tse, and prior to that, the director of design at Marc Jacobs' men's and women's Collection and Marc by Marc Jacobs men's wear. Chai is also the consulting creative director of Onward Kashiyama's contemporary line, Nave.

Chai's label is sold in 30 doors, including Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue and a slew of specialty stores such as Jakes in Chicago, Browns in London, Joyce in Hong Kong, Mercury in Moscow and Boon The Shop in Seoul.

"With a preliminary preparation in 2007, we expect to open up about 10 retail stores in global markets including New York, Seoul, Shanghai, Beijing…and hopefully expand to other Asian countries in the near future," Lee said.

"Every designer would love to have his own freestanding stores, to bring your vision and show your point of view," Chai said.

The designer doesn't like to talk numbers and wouldn't disclose the size of the stake, his volume, sales projections or even his age. With SK Networks, Chai said he hopes to add men's wear to his existing collection. He also wants to grow his stock-keeping units, and add pre-collections and a resort season to his mix. The deal will enable him to focus even more on design. "Starting out on my own, I had to do everything, like writing checks, but that burden is now taken off and I can focus on creative 100 percent," he said.SK Networks hopes to use Chai as a stepping stone to globalize its firm. "Our anticipation is to reach the sales mark of $100 million [for Richard Chai's wholesale and retail operation] by 2010, with SK Networks being in charge of global distribution and Richard Chai on the diverse products extension from 2009," said Lee.

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