By  on August 7, 2007

RIO DE JANEIRO — In Brazil, where fashion labels are generally content to serve the domestic market and rarely seek foreign footholds, a couple of brands are getting aggressive about breaking out.

Osklen, a major Brazilian beach/board/casual brand, has opened a store in New York's SoHo, with rival Rosa Chá to follow suit next February, as both labels continue to push abroad.

Osklen invested $300,000 to open its 1,700-square-foot store at 97 Wooster Street last month. It is stocked with its summer collection, including a 700-piece mix of fashion-forward beachwear, surfboard and snowboard apparel and chic casualwear, everything from suede pants to silk organza day-into-evening dresses.

Osklen designer Oskar Metsavaht said he chose to open his first wholly owned foreign store in SoHo because "New York is the fashion capital of the U.S. and there is a market there for my style of clothes — chic sportswear from a tropical country that appeals to Americans. I estimate the SoHo store will initially gross around $1.3 million a year."

Since Osklen began in 1989, it has mushroomed into a chain of 40 boutiques in Brazil (20 wholly owned and 20 franchises), and also sells to 200 multibrand stores in Brazil. Globally, aside from its SoHo store, Osklen has six franchise stores — three in Portugal, one each in Milan, Geneva and Rome — and sells to 60 multibrand or department stores in the European Union and Japan. Osklen's gross revenues in 2006 were $53 million, only 3 percent of which came from exports.

Still, Osklen's seven foreign stores give it a large Brazilian fashion presence abroad. The only other Brazilian designers with overseas stores are Rosa Chá, Carlos Miele, with a Chelsea district Manhattan boutique, and Alexandre Herchcovitch, who opened his first foreign store in Tokyo last February. Osklen will also open a Tokyo outlet next March with H.P. France, a clothing distributor and retailer for the Japanese market, H.P. France is also Herchcovitch's Tokyo store partner.

Meanwhile, Rosa Chá's 1,300-square-foot SoHo store will also be its first wholly owned foreign foothold, and will require a $500,000 investment, unlike its three franchise stores in Lisbon (2004), Miami (2005) and Istanbul (this past May). Rosa Chá also plans to open a franchise in Cancun, Mexico, by the end of the year. Its SoHo store, also to boast a mezzanine showroom, will be stocked with the label's 450-piece summer 2008 collection, to be shown at 7th on Sixth in September.That collection includes swimwear retailing for $150 to $550 in vibrant primary colors or earth tones, with some surrealist pieces sporting sewn-on metal appliqués — among them miniature knives, spoons, nuts and bolts. Because Rosa Chá has expanded from beachwear, the collection also features looks like patio pants, flower-embroidered minidresses, day-into-evnening wraparound skirts and dresses, at $200 to $700 retail.

"Because Rosa Chá is already sold in some upmarket Manhattan stores, name recognition will give our SoHo store a ready-made clientele," said Rosa Chá designer Amir Slama. "This, plus the high purchasing power of New Yorkers who summer in the Hamptons or vacation in the Caribbean, is why I expect the SoHo store to initially gross $800,000 a year, compared to the $600,000 grossed by each of our other foreign franchises."

Slama recently formed a joint venture with Marisol, a Brazilian textile group, to boost production and logistics to stock its own foreign outposts as well as its wholesale clients in Brazil and internationally.

"Given our expansions abroad, I realized that we needed to invest in technology to ramp up production," said Slama.

Rosa Chá, whose first store opened in São Paulo, Brazil's fashion capital, 16 years ago, now has 22 stores in Brazil, four foreign franchises and sells to 220 multibrand stores in Brazil and 175 outside Brazil. Rosa Chá has gross sales of $25 million a year in apparel — $10 million from its 22 stores and $15 million from its franchises and sales to other retailers. Foreign sales now account for 25 percent of its gross revenues.

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