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Colcci Makes U.S. Beachhead in Santa Monica

A 21-year-old brand that generates more than $100 million in sales in its native Brazil and flaunts supermodel Gisele Bündchen in ads, Colcci is taking...

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SANTA MONICA, Calif. — A 21-year-old brand that generates more than $100 million in sales in its native Brazil and flaunts supermodel Gisele Bündchen in ads, Colcci is taking measured steps to break into the U.S. market.

Owned by AMC Textile, which says it is the second-largest manufacturer in Brazil, the young contemporary label has opened its first U.S. office here with five employees, who are trying to build a wholesale business in a market that they acknowledged to be difficult, competitive and fast-moving.

“For any company, not just a fashion company,” the task would be a challenge, said managing director Roberta Cysne, who previously worked at Diesel in Italy and Liz Claiborne in Amsterdam.

Colcci faces competition not only from fast-fashion retailers including Los Angeles-based Forever 21, but also other emerging young contemporary labels like Hot Kiss Inc.’s Emphasis. The U.S. is the latest foreign market Colcci is entering. It established operations in Europe in 2003, and in Australia and Japan a year later. Annual sales in France, England, Italy and about a half-dozen other European countries already number $18 million at wholesale. Cysne said it had a retention rate of about 60 percent with European retailers and planned to open its first European store in Spain in 2008.

Still, the U.S. is an important market, and one where Colcci hopes to exceed its business in Brazil, where it has 120 freestanding stores and 1,000-plus points of sale. Though Cysne plans eventually to open a store in the U.S. and stage a fashion show in New York, she said the current focus was to open accounts with specialty shops and chains that have six or seven locations. So far, Colcci has booked orders from Vault Jeans in Houston, Scarlet in Little Rock, Ark., Staxx in Springfield, Mo., and others.

Colcci, to be launched in the U.S. for winter, designs for four seasons, 230 to 300 stockkeeping units per season; men’s styles will make up a third. (Colcci offers 800 to 1,000 sku’s per season in Brazil.) Average wholesale prices are $30 for tops, $40 for denim, $45 for sweaters, $50 for nondenim bottoms and $75 to $80 for jackets.

Cysne declined to make first-year sales projections, but predicted that the dresses and tops would do as well in the U.S. as they have in Europe, where they make up 45 percent of the business. Made mostly of cotton and Tencel, the voluminous dresses and tops are meant to be worn over leggings and skinny jeans, which come in shades such as black, raw indigo and canary yellow. For a bit of spice, the back pocket of one jean has the phrase “original Colcci” stitched vertically in gold thread in big cursive script.

Such styling convinced owners of Connoisseur 533 in San Jose, Calif., to dub Colcci “the Versace of Brazil” after spotting the label everywhere on trips to the South American country. The four-month-old streetwear boutique added Colcci to its roster of women’s labels, including Nicacelly, Hellz Bells and Mama.

Kareem Jahron, co-owner of Connoisseur 533, said his partner, Danny Sulivan, recently took a model to Colcci’s office in Santa Monica and ordered anything that looked good on her. “He ordered a lot of stuff — a lot of the jeans and shoes,” Jahron said, expecting that his customers will cotton to the relatively unknown brand because it fits well. “For women, it’s all about fit, feel and color,” he said.

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