By  on June 23, 2009

Trend-driven retailer Kitson is ratcheting up its global footprint.

The Los Angeles-based store plans a pair of new units in Tokyo, with the first opening Sept. 6 in the Harajuku area and the second in March 2010 in the high-end Omotesando district. Under a licensing agreement, all of Kitson’s stores in Japan are owned and operated by Itochu Corp.

Kitson founder Fraser Ross said he is in talks to open boutiques in China, South Korea and Singapore, possibly in the next year. Kitson’s first outpost in Japan debuted in March in the Lumine shopping complex in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. Another Los Angeles-based specialty retailer, Ron Herman, plans to launch a 3,000-square-foot unit in Tokyo on Aug. 29, and also is eyeing growth in Asia and Europe. Other Los Angeles-based boutiques, including Opening Ceremony and Intuition, plan to open in Japan, and Satine has a location in Tokyo’s Aoyama area.

Funds from the overseas licensing helps fund stateside expansion, Ross said. Kitson Men’s store is to open Saturday in Malibu, Calif., and a Kitson Kids store is launching on Disneyland’s Main Street USA in mid-July.

Kitson has seven stores in metropolitan Los Angeles — five on Robertson Boulevard, one on Melrose Avenue and another in the Americana at Brand shopping center in Glendale, Calif.

“I would love to be sold or to go public at some point; I can’t grow any more in this country by myself,” Ross said. “Where I’d like to be is in London….With the right partner, it could really work.”

Ross said the first Kitson store in Tokyo rang in $1.5 million in sales in its initial 20 days in business.

Erin Armendinger, managing director of the Jay H. Baker retailing initiative at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, said despite the recession there is still growth opportunity in the Asian market, particularly Japan.

“There are brands that will have five stores in Tokyo because people are loyal to one single area even more than in New York — I think it’s a function of how crowded Tokyo is as a city,” Armendinger said. “The stores are smaller and more productive.”

Ross said international licensing is a linchpin to his business, as well as sales of Kitson’s branded products, which represent as much as 20 percent of volume.

“The best thing we ever did was come out with our own brand — that is one of the biggest parts of our business,” he said. “It really carries the load because the margins are so much better.”

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