By  on October 8, 2012

NEW YORK — Urban Outfitters Inc. has signed an exclusive distribution and marketing agreement with World Co. Ltd. for its Free People brand in Japan.

In addition to opening shops-in-shop in department stores such as Isetan and Takashimaya, World will help Free People launch a freestanding store and showroom in the Shibuya district within the next six months, said Krissy Meehan, managing director of wholesale. It will be the first retail store to open in Japan for any Urban Outfitters Inc. division.

Meehan said Free People will use the deal to help build momentum for the brand in Asia. “It’s our first international move,” Meehan said. “This is an important step for the Free People brand in opening up the Asian markets. It’s going to be instrumental to other countries such as China and Korea in that region.”

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Free People is also increasing its resources in Europe, particularly the U.K. “We’re focused on Asia and Europe, and building within those regions,” Meehan said. “We’ll start in the U.K. and branch out to other parts of Europe.”

The World agreement will allow Japanese consumers to “experience the brand in its entirety,” Meehan said. “We’ll offer shoes, intimates and special occasion dresses.”

Free People chose World, a specialty-store retailer of private label women’s, men’s and kids apparel, headquartered in Kobe, Japan, because it has 50 years of experience — Aqua Girl is its best known brand — and operates 2,700 store locations, Meehan said. In the U.K., Free People is launching a Web site and looking to sell new product categories to its wholesale accounts. “We’re working toward opening stores in the U.K.,” Meehan said.

The brand wants to deepen the Free People experience for customers in department stores. “We launched our first shop-in-shop at Nordstrom in Seattle and opened one at Bloomingdale’s [59th Street flagship],” Meehan said. “Customers can experience the true Free People. You have to put the brand together under the Free People aesthetic.”

The label, which makes 14 shipments a year, is sold in about 1,400 specialty stores and select department stores, and operates 75 Free People retail units. Comparable retail net sales at Free People rose 2 percent in the first quarter ended April 30, and 12 percent in the second quarter ended July 31.

“Something we’ve been talking about is expanding our wholesale momentum,” Meehan said. “Our top-line growth has been 18 percent to date.”

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