By  on March 10, 2005

NEW YORK — Every luxury brand seems headed to China these days, but Ports 1961 has shifted into reverse.

The $200 million sportswear brand, which originated in Canada in 1961, was purchased by Chinese entrepreneur Alfred Chan in the early Nineties. It is widely recognized by Chinese consumers and operates flagships in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Chengdu. Now Ports is looking to make a U.S. comeback.

The brand recently set up a sleek 10,000-square-foot showroom at 601 West 26th Street, which will serve as its North American base and from which company executives hope to set up a wholesale and retail network that could see five U.S. flagships in the next five years.

Ports is no newcomer to the U.S. market. Founded in 1961 in Canada by Luke Tanabe, Ports International had its high point in the late Eighties when there were 35 freestanding Ports stores in Canada and 15 in the U.S., including a unit on Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. After Chan acquired the company in the early Nineties, he decided to concentrate on the Asian market and closed down Ports’ North American distribution points. Ports currently operates about 200 retail stores in China.

“We have been talking about a makeover for about five years and then two years ago, we decided to bring it back home to Canada and North America,” said Tia Cibani, creative director and managing director. “Alfred Chan agreed to the expansion. I felt it was important to have a presence in New York. Being in China is very important, but as a support to that, we needed to build a presence here, too.”

Cibani has been overseeing the repositioning campaign, beginning with the renaming of Ports International to Ports 1961 in 2003. Cibani joined Ports in 1990, working with DSquared’s Dean and Dan Caten, who were heading the design team then. She moved to Xiamen, China, in 1993 to oversee the development of the brand there, and only returned in 2003 to head the North American relaunch. She is now based in New York.

For its relaunch, the company hired Bruce Baas as vice president of sales. Baas joined from Michael Kors, where he was vice president of global retail and the women’s collection for four years. Prior to Kors, Baas was at Bergdorf Goodman for 13 years, rising to vice president and divisional merchandise manager of designer sportswear. Ports also brought in Jacquelyn Wenzel as merchandiser and general manager. Wenzel previously had her own merchandising firm.

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