The Onituka Tiger store in SoHo.

NEW YORK — Onitsuka Tiger has its eye on the U.S. market.

The more fashion-forward division of Asics on Thursday opened its first permanent retail location in SoHo, the first step in a plan to add a dozen stores in major American cities over the next two to three years.

The 1,100-square-foot store at 276 Lafayette Street is located next to Supreme and near Scotch & Soda, WeSC and other stores that cater mainly to men, Onitsuka Tiger’s primary target.

“We loved the area,” said Loris Spadaccini, the new regional director of Onitsuka Tiger North America. “This street is very men’s-oriented, which is very much in line with our business.”

Although the brand does offer women’s sizes, most of its selection is geared toward men.

This store replaces a long-term pop-up on nearby Mercer Street, originally intended to be open for only one year but was extended to a two-year stint. “When this opportunity came around, we took it right away,” he said.

The permanent store features floor-to-ceiling footwear displays and a hand-painted wall with a tiger graphic, a symbolic element of all Onitsuka Tiger stores.

Because of its small size, the Lafayette Street unit is being viewed as “a concept store” rather than a flagship, Spadaccini said. Onitsuka Tiger is searching for a larger space in New York City as well as locations in Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and other key cities around the country.

Footwear is the primary driver for the Onitsuka Tiger brand.

Footwear is the primary driver for the Onitsuka Tiger brand. 

He said this store is intended to serve as a “path to understanding retail in the U.S.” The brand has around 100 stores globally, including 37 in its home country of Japan and five in Europe, but this is its only U.S. store.

“Our goal is to be more direct-to-consumer,” he said.

In the pop-up, the footwear was the key driver of the business, Spadaccini said. So the assortment here is heavily skewed to the brand’s sneaker assortment, with the popular heritage range front and center. “That’s what we’re known for and what’s driving traffic,” he said. “We were the first true Japanese sneaker brand.”

There is also a display with more modern interpretations of the heritage shoes to appeal to a contemporary shopper.

The store also offers a couple of exclusives, including sportswear, accessories, children’s shoes and the Nippon Made collection of hand-crafted Japanese footwear.

Prices range from $85 to $110 for the core sneaker range and $150 for the contemporary models to $300 for Nippon Made.

The apparel, which is shown on the runway in Tokyo every season, includes hoodies, track suits, Ts and other sportswear pieces, several with bold graphics. Apparel represents around 15 percent of sales for the brand and is exclusive to its retail stores, he said.

“We want to become a true lifestyle brand,” Spadaccini said. “But we want to keep it small, premium and controlled distribution.”

The footwear is not heavily distributed at wholesale either, he said, although Nordstrom, Free People and a few other retailers carry “limited styles” within the collection.

Part of Spadaccini’s job is to “review” the brand’s wholesale strategy while expanding its retail presence.

While still small, Onitsuka Tiger, which is a division of Asics, has been a bright spot for the company in recent years. In fiscal 2019, shoe sales for the brand rose more than 30 percent over the prior year to 427 million yen, and the company is expecting that number to hit 480 million yen in fiscal 2019.

“The brand is doing an amazing job,” Spadaccini said.

This summer, flagships will open in Shanghai and Beijing and the corporation is also making “a great investment in North America.”

Spadaccini, who joined the company a month ago after spending a decade at Puma and other large footwear brands, said Onitsuka Tiger will open an office and showroom this summer in SoHo, further indicating the brand’s commitment to the U.S. market.

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