By  on December 18, 2008

Premium denim leader Seven For All Mankind is setting its sights on Japan.

The label, owned by apparel giant VF Corp., has reached an agreement with Global Retail Inc. to build the brand in Japan through wholesale expansion and the opening of freestanding stores. According to VF, Seven has been active in the Japanese market for five years, selling at multibrand specialty stores and department stores.

Giuliano Sartori, vice president and general manager of Seven’s Asia-Pacific division, said the agreement with GRI will elevate the brand’s visibility with new shop-in-shops at key specialty and department stores. In addition, targets have been set to open a network of branded stores over the next three years.

“We’re looking at six freestanding stores and over 30 shop-in-shops in Japan,” said Sartori. “We feel it’s a reasonable target for the size of the market and the strength of our brand.”

The announcement comes as Seven prepares to open a Tokyo showroom in January. The brand’s first Japanese flagship is slated to open in March in Tokyo’s trendy Daikanyama, Shibuya-ku. Sartori said the Tokyo shop will be one of the largest and serve as a launchpad for the brand. The 4,500-square-foot space will include retail space and offices. Future stores will likely be in the range of 1,500 to 2,000 square feet.

Sartori acknowledged the difficulties facing the Japanese economy and, in particular, the sluggish retail environment. Luxury goods makers and retailers such as Louis Vuitton, Dior, Prada and Salvatore Ferragamo have been forced to cut prices in a bid to lure customers, and on Tuesday, Vuitton abandoned plans to open a 10-story Ginza flagship. However, Sartori noted that Japan remains a leading Asian market with a “highly sophisticated consumer.”

GRI, a privately held international brand management and retail-distribution group, operates 100 stores throughout Europe and some 500 points of sale in 12 Asian countries, including China, South Korea, Japan, Macau, Singapore and Vietnam. The company was founded in 1997, and in 2006 received an investment from Goldman Sachs and the Government of Singapore Investment Corp. In June, Jones Apparel Group acquired a minority interest in GRI Group Ltd., the exclusive licensee of several of Jones’ brands in Asia, including Nine West, Anne Klein New York, AK Anne Klein and Easy Spirit.

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