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U.K.’s Radley Comes to America

Radley, the handbag, luggage and accessories label based here, is set to make its U.S. debut at Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale's East Coast stores starting...

LONDON — Radley, the handbag, luggage and accessories label based here, is set to make its U.S. debut at Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale’s East Coast stores starting next month.

But the company doesn’t want to market its colorful, soft-leather handbags by touting a signature “It” bag.

“We’re not a fashion follower, [we’re] not following the catwalks,” said Roger Best, chief executive officer. “What buyers like is the freedom of our style and our use of color. We’ve purposely tried not to have an ‘It’ bag or a bestseller.”

Since the brand was founded in 1998 by Australian-born Lowell Harder, a former architect who is creative director, the label has become an important player in the premium handbag market in the U.K. In the 2007 fiscal year, sales grew 30 percent in the region, according to a survey by Mintel, a market research organization, which showed the average growth rate of a U.K. handbag brand was 8 to 10 percent a year. This year, the company expects sales of 60 million pounds, or $117 million at current exchange. Late last year, Radley was acquired by the London-based private equity firm Exponent, which purchased the company for 130 million pounds, or about $255 million.

Best said Radley’s simple, functional designs appeal to a cross section of women — most of the brand’s bags in the U.K. are bought by customers aged 26 to 45. Prices range from 70 pounds, or about $137, for a small leather handbag to 375 pounds, or $734, for a large Soho, a hobo-style bag in patent leather.

“[Radley’s] not a luxury brand,” Best said. “We’re very much [at] a premium sector positioning.”

The dollar’s weakness against the pound hasn’t deterred U.S. retailers from the brand’s more expensive pieces, he said.

“We’re finding in the U.S. [that buyers] are selecting the range at the higher end,” Best said, adding that most of the bags sold in the U.S. are priced between $300 and $600. “I think [buyers] felt that the product has good value and that the price is not a barrier.”

Radley’s range also includes luggage, laptop cases and small leather goods. For spring, it will introduce sunglasses. Radley’s parent company, Radley & Co., also owns U.K. handbag brands Tula and Hidesign.

After the boost that the Exponent deal brought to the business, Best said there are plans to expand its stores. About 95 percent of sales come from the U.K. , but a Radley store opened in Dubai last year and Best plans to launch the brand in Japan, in addition to entering the U.S. market.

“The business in the U.K. is [the brand’s] engine room, but in the longer term we think the international [markets] will be a bigger part of our business,” he said.

In the U.K., the brand is sold through department stores such as Debenhams, John Lewis and House of Fraser, and in the last year it has opened three stores in London and one in Manchester. Best said there were plans to open 12 stores in the U.K. in the next three years, with units in Glasgow and Birmingham next on the agenda.