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Emerging Regions In Burke’s Sights

Russia, China and India may be all the buzz in fashion, but there is also significant opportunity in emerging markets like South Korea, South America and...

NEW YORK — Russia, China and India may be all the buzz in fashion, but there is also significant opportunity in emerging markets like South Korea, South America and the Middle East. Two years after launching his consultancy, Robert Burke has found that these regions can not be underestimated.

This story first appeared in the February 27, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“There is growth in these emerging markets, which is so strong that it often rivals the American businesses,” said Burke, who serves as the president and chief executive officer of Robert Burke Associates.

And growth doesn’t have to be directly tied to fashion or retail, but can also encompass hotels, real estate developments, technology, private equity firms and hedge funds.

“When the company was launched, I felt I would be working with brands in the luxury segment,” said Burke, a former senior vice president at Bergdorf Goodman. “We are doing that, but a number of other people also approached us with interesting projects in other fields, such as international conglomerates, banks and financial institutions that were looking for acquisitions.”

John Dermott Mitchell, who joined last year as the consultancy’s chief operating officer, added, “You go out and hang up your shingle, and you think certain businesses come to your door, but you find that by day two or three, the businesses are very different, in a positive way. You can do different projects that are exciting and that generally have some infusion of luxury.”

Since the formation of the company, Burke has worked with clients such as Bulgari, Vera Wang, Richard Chai, ShopNBC and American Express. The company works in such areas as strategic consulting, brand positioning and development, acquisition, divestiture and domestic and international as well as licensing opportunities.

“Some of the things we are working on are emerging markets and the big conglomerates that are looking to go into the fashion industry,” Burke said.

One such company is SK Networks, the South Korean conglomerate that has set aside $11 billion for a prestige division, which would incorporate fashion. “The desire for luxury is enormous in [South] Korea,” Burke said. Among SK Networks’ ambitions is helping U.S. brands who want to distribute their product in South Korea, bringing a U.S. fashion and design school to Shanghai and even investing in American brands. SK Networks made its first U.S. fashion investment of $6.2 million in Richard Chai last year. It also just acquired Obzee Co. Ltd. and its affiliate brands Y & Kei and Hanii Y with a $60 million, five-year investment plan. “They now want to make an acquisition between $100 million and $300 million,” Burke said.

In Qatar, Burke works with United Development Co., which is building The Pearl, a man-made island with 280,000 square feet of retail space for luxury fashions. He also works with M1 Group, a diversified family-owned company based in Beirut, Lebanon, that’s seeking to build a portfolio of luxury and fashion brands, and recently acquired Façonnable.

In Australia, Burke is working with Target Australia, which is not related to the U.S. retailer of the same name. However, like the American group, the $3.2 billion Australian company is looking to recruit designers for capsule collections, and Burke has been charged with helping identify suitable talent. News of a New York designer is expected imminently. “They can’t be as esoteric as the U.S. Target designers have been,” Burke said. “They need to be more recognized.”

He will also help Brazilian shoe company Melissa find American talent for collaborations to help it break into the U.S. market.

“Designer collaborations will continue because consumers want to be a part of the designer world,” Burke offered. “It gives them immediate credibility.”