By  on August 30, 2007

Get ready, Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister and American Eagle Outfitters — there's another new competitor coming to America.

Who.A.U., a South Korean brand with a passion for the California lifestyle, is the latest contender entering the already-crowded teen-young adult category. Who.A.U. is embarking on an ambitious U.S. launch strategy, with plans to open 12 to 18 stores in the first year. "Who.A.U. could eventually be as big as Hollister," predicted Daniel Pang, executive vice president of U.S. operations for the South Korean group. Hollister has 416 stores in the U.S.

The $4 billion E-Land, Who.A.U.'s deep-pocketed parent, is one of South Korea's largest apparel manufacturers and has the wherewithal to support a rollout. Who.A.U., which launched in 2001, has 39 stores in South Korea and "is planning to launch the brand in Europe and other parts of Asia," said Pang. "It's going to be global."

Pang forecast that, in five years, the chain would have more than 50 stores in the U.S. "We're starting business in the U.S.," he said. "It's a big country, so a rollout will have more than 50 stores."

The unusual name, Who.A.U., stands for Who Are You, Pang said. "We're challenging consumers by asking who you are. The clothing clarifies your identity."

Who.A.U. is establishing itself in shopping malls before venturing to downtown street locations. "We find the [communities with the] target demographic," Pang said. "We've had another business in the U.S. for seven years, a wholesale children's wear collection, so we learned all the geographical differences and town-by-town differences."

Diana Milligan, a director of leasing for the Taubman Company, said launching a brand in shopping centers makes sense "if the target customer is a teen or young adult."

Who.A.U. in November will open its first store in a 4,100-square-foot space at Stamford Town Center in Stamford, Conn. Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of retail leasing and sales at Prudential Douglas Elliman, who is representing Who.A.U., said its typical stores range in size from 15,000 to 20,000 square feet. "Their stores have a cappuccino and soda bar, which takes space," she said.

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