By  on October 20, 2011

Jack Spade is on a growth spurt.

The men’s accessories and apparel brand last week opened its first international store in Tokyo, part of an effort to grow its undeveloped business in overseas markets. The store joins new Jack Spade locations in Boston and Georgetown, Va., that opened in August and September, respectively.

The company, known for its canvas messenger bags, also launched its first suit line this fall in partnership with Massachusetts-based Southwick. The foray into tailored clothing comes as apparel becomes an increasingly important part of the business, approaching close to 50 percent of total sales.

“Our strategy for growth in building a global men’s lifestyle brand includes expanding the product category offering, building consumer awareness through both marketing efforts and expanded distribution and executing a brand-appropriate retail expansion, both domestically and in key international markets,” said Craig Leavitt, chief executive officer of the Kate Spade division of Liz Claiborne Inc.

Jack Spade is housed under the Kate Spade umbrella within Liz Claiborne but operates as a separate men’s brand.

The Tokyo store is housed in a bi-level, 1,300-square-foot space in the Jinnan district near Shibuya. “It’s sort of an up-and-coming area with some great men’s stores nearby,” said Cuan Hanly, vice president and brand director of Jack Spade. Neighboring shops include Margaret Howell, Beams, Ships and Journal Standard.

Jack Spade product in Japan was previously sold in Kate Spade stores but that distribution was phased out about two years ago to create a separate identity for the men’s product. A small Jack Spade wholesale business is conducted in Japan, and the new store is aimed at improving brand recognition and driving that business further.

“Our stores are such an important part of how we present the brand, it was important to open here to support it,” said Hanly.

The Japan business is operated via the Kate Spade Japan joint venture with Sanei International Co. Ltd. “We feel it will be the first of many stores,” said Hanly.

Currently, the U.S. represents the great bulk of Jack Spade sales, with small overseas wholesale businesses in select markets such as Italy and Scandinavia. The company is also scouting potential store locations in the U.K., Continental Europe and China.

“We believe that there is significant growth opportunity for the brand, both domestically and internationally, and plan it to be among the fastest-growing components of our business on a compound annual growth rate basis for the next several years,” said Leavitt. “It has the potential to be a leading men’s American lifestyle brand.”

The growth at Jack Spade comes as Claiborne continues to shed noncore businesses to focus on its three key divisions: Kate Spade (incorporating Jack Spade), Juicy Couture and Lucky Brand. Last week, Liz Claiborne Inc. agreed to sell its flagship Liz Claiborne brand to J.C. Penney Co. Inc. as part of a series of transactions that will raise $328 million to pay down debt. The sale includes the Claiborne men’s line.

“We were already focusing additional resources into growing the Jack division, and have had support from our parent all along the way,” said Leavitt. “The very positive financial impact of the recently announced changes will only underscore our ability to invest in the brand.”

Jack Spade sales have grown at a healthy clip this year, although company officials declined to reveal exact figures. However, the brand is still a small slice of the Kate Spade business, which grew 67.4 percent in the first half of this year to $127.4 million.

The company now operates seven Jack Spade doors in the U.S., including two New York stores, two in Los Angeles, one in Chicago and the new Georgetown and Boston units. Additional stores are planned for 2012, with Hanly looking for spaces in San Francisco and Miami, among other potential markets.

Key wholesale accounts in the U.S. include Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Barneys New York and Fred Segal.

The 1,500-square-foot Georgetown store, which opened Sept. 9, is located in a two-level town house at 1250 Wisconsin Avenue. Neighbors include Rugby, Apple and Tumi.

The Boston store at 129 Newbury Street bowed on Aug. 13 and sits in a 1,300-square-foot space in a Victorian building. The brand was previously housed in the basement of the Kate Spade store a few doors down.

In July, the original Jack Spade store in New York’s SoHo underwent an expansion and renovation, annexing a space adjacent to it and growing from 800 square feet to 1,650 square feet.

The tailored line with Southwick builds on a sportswear and tailored separates collection launched in 2009. The Southwick collection is the first time Jack Spade has offered suits that are sold as a jacket-and-pant combo. The Made in the USA range is sold in Jack Spade stores as well as Barneys New York and retails from $995 for a sport coat to $1,595 for a suit.

Moving forward, Jack Spade is considering expanding into the sunglass and watch categories, said Hanly.

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