NEW YORK — VF Corp. is loading up its backpack business.

Its latest acquisition is bag and accessories manufacturer Kipling Belgium NV, which the Greensboro, N.C.-based vendor said it picked up for an undisclosed amount. VF said it acquired “substantially all of the assets” of Antwerp-based Kipling, which manufactures upscale bags, packs and accessories.

Mackey J. McDonald, chairman and chief executive officer of VF, said in a statement, “Clearly, VF’s growth momentum is building. Kipling is solidly profitable and has the potential for double-digit sales growth in the years ahead, as we leverage the brand’s very strong position into additional categories and markets.”

VF said Kipling’s 2003 sales were $69 million, and it expects Kipling to contribute $40 million to VF’s sales in 2004.

Although Kipling will become part of VF’s outdoor coalition, headed by Eric Wiseman, vice president and chairman of the outdoor and sportswear coalitions, Jim Thomsen, managing director of VF’s European packs business, will oversee the Kipling operation. European packs is under the rubric of VF’s international outdoor division, and is headquartered in Bornem, Belgium as part of VF’s international jeanswear and packs businesses.

The international outdoor division is headed by Karl Heinz Salzburger, who said in a statement, “Kipling’s established retail operations worldwide, brand extension and licensing opportunities, and synergies with our existing European brands and operations, give us a solid foundation upon which to build.”

The Kipling brand joins VF’s outdoor brand portfolio, which includes The North Face, JanSport, Eastpak and Napapijri.

Tony Gram, president of Kipling, said in a statement, “We have tremendous respect for VF’s global reach and are excited that Kipling will become part of such a dynamic collection.”

In operation since 1987, Kipling is best known for its colorful nylon backpacks and travel bags. Products under the Kipling brand include bags, backpacks and stationery. VF said Kipling has under license brand categories such as eyewear, footwear, home products, jewelry and watches. Kipling has 17 company-owned retail stores throughout Belgium, Holland and the U.K., and 120 shops in operation mostly in Asia through distributors.Kipling had licensed the U.S. line to accessories manufacturer Tumi Inc. for 12 years, according to Georgia Grant, vice president of Kipling North America. On Friday, the two parties reached an agreement to return the license for an undisclosed sum.

Kipling wholesales its collection to approximately 350 accounts in the U.S. to major upper-tier department stores, such as Macy’s East and West and Bloomingdale’s. In addition, the company operates five stores: four in South Florida and one in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

More recently, the company has been looking to build its wholesale business with specialty stores and started exhibiting its wares at the Accessorie Circuit trade show.

— With contributions from Marc Karimzadeh

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