Nitches Inc., parent company of NAP Inc., a $100 million innerwear firm, is expanding its intimates, sleepwear and loungewear businesses to include retail with the acquisition of Backwoods Equipment Co., a lifestyle retail chain and adventure travel business.

This move will extend the reach of Nitches’ active lifestyle segment into the specialty retailing sector. In addition to Backwoods’ corporate headquarters in Austin, Tex., there are six retail locations in the Midwest, including a flagship in Wichita, Kan. Two new units will open in Austin and Fort Worth this month, and the Kansas City store is being renovated and expanded threefold to 9,000 square feet.

A purchase price was not disclosed, but annual retail sales of the retail division are more than $10 million, according to industry estimates. The transaction was structured as a stock swap that will make Backwoods a wholly owned subsidiary of Nitches, said Victor Lee, president of NAP.

Lee said the company plans to create and develop a Backwoods collection of lifestyle apparel that will be sold at the eight Backwoods units in June. The stores, which average sales per square foot in excess of $500, are about 7,500 square feet.

Lee said the infrastructure and resources of Nitches will be leveraged to bolster the Backwoods brands globally. The focus will be in the U.S. and in Asia, which Lee described as a “huge opportunity” to increase sales and awareness of the company’s brands as well as the Backwoods name, including footwear. Nitches and NAP market innerwear under these brands: Gossard, Princesse Tam Tam, Shock Absorber, Anne Lewin, Derek Rose, Eminence, Crabtree & Evelyn, Odille Oasis, Cuddl Duds, Dockers and Claire Murray.

Nitches has the financial muscle to grow the Backwoods brand because in July 2007 it partnered with Tokyo-based Sojitz Corp., a $43 billion trading company specializing in aeronautics, energy, plastics, chemicals, food, textiles and apparel.

Steve Wyandt, chairman of Nitches, said the company was “fortunate to find a retailer in this emerging category of outdoor lifestyle with a history of strength through product mix and management expertise. We identified in Backwoods’ chief executive officer Jennifer Mull an entrepreneurial spirit that is consistent with our philosophy at Nitches. Jennifer is the driving force of this alliance.”

This story first appeared in the March 10, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Lee said that, since 2003, Mull has beefed up the Backwoods business by redefining the merchandising mix with more lifestyle items for the outdoors, as well as the home, and revamped operations of the stores that resulted in almost doubling sales in a five-year period.

“This new division has enabled Backwoods to forge an even stronger bond with its customers by providing them with [the means] to explore the world utilizing the products and equipment available in Backwoods retail stores,” Mull said.

Backwoods’ adventure travel service offers exotic options that range from trekking expeditions in Nepal, white water rafting in Costa Rica, fly fishing in Wyoming and photo safaris on the Serengeti Plain of Tanzania.

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