After 10 years in Japan, Cynthia Rowley has set her eyes on South Korea.
This story first appeared in the January 15, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The designer opened a 1,400-square-foot boutique in the popular and trendy Gangnam District of Seoul this month, an area filled with fashion brands such as Tory Burch, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Kate Spade and Burberry.
“It’s become a real shopping destination,” said Peter Arnold, president of Cynthia Rowley. He said the store will carry a full assortment of Rowley’s apparel, bags, shoes, outerwear and jewelry. The boutique was opened with Rowley’s South Korean business partner Seokyung, the distributor for brands such as True Religion. The company plans to open two additional shops-in-shop in major Seoul department stores this spring. It is currently negotiating with them.
Arnold said that when he met Keoung-Aei Ha, the chief executive officer of Seokyung, he discovered “she was a huge Cynthia Rowley fan.”
“They went for all the fashion-forward things. They’re really into the leggings and the whole notion of activewear,” said Arnold, noting that they buy the line from Rowley’s New York-based company. Most of the merchandise is made in China, with the balance in India and the U.S.
Rowley’s Korean store mirrors the white pristine decor of her Stateside boutiques with splashes of the brand’s distorted floral patterns decorating the walls.
The plan is that by the end of 2013, they will open six stores in South Korea, and in 2014, they’ll open another four stores. The 10 stores will be a mix of freestanding boutiques and shops-in-shop within department stores, said Arnold. The first three stores will be in Seoul and the next few will be in Daegu, followed by Busan, he said.
To acquaint itself with the South Korean market, Rowley sold some of its handbags on a Web site, CJO Shopping, which helped build buzz. They sold a lot of merchandise very quickly, according to Arnold.
“What I’ve learned is it’s a very developed market and you have a very sophisticated customer in South Korea,” said Arnold. “What Cynthia is known for is her unexpected use of color, and very unique prints she designs herself. It’s something women find appealing and is different from what is there now. They love the playfulness of what she does.”
Rowley’s business has flourished in Japan. It has 43 stores in Japan and Taiwan, which are a combination of freestanding boutiques and shops-in-shop. The company has a flagship in Tokyo. “We just celebrated our 10-year anniversary in Japan, and I’m confident our Korean business will be just as successful,” added Rowley.
Arnold said the company will eventually enter China again — it tried it once before — and is talking to a potential partner in Hong Kong and Mainland China. “We’ve learned it’s a very complex market and you have to make sure you have an on-the-ground knowledge and expertise. It’s hard to enter without a good partner,” said Arnold.