NEW YORK — Kipling is not monkeying around this spring when it comes to growing its business in the U.S.
The 18-year-old Antwerp, Belgium-based accessories company is positioning itself to move beyond its reputation in America as a luggage label to become a lifestyle brand. VF Corp., based in Greensboro, N.C., acquired the brand in June 2004, opening up the possibility of a new future for Kipling.
“I just saw it as a brand that had such great potential,” said Jim Thomsen, president of Kipling International, who spearheaded the acquisition. “And there hasn’t been much marketing with it. It sells because of the product.”
Denise Seegal, president of VF Sportswear, the division that oversees the Kipling business, said the first step in becoming a lifestyle brand in the U.S. is to develop a retail presence for Kipling.
“For the U.S. market, the focus is on opening our own stores and launching the handbag category in department store channels,” she said.
The first store opened this month in Beverly Center in Los Angeles. Additional units are anticipated to open in Roosevelt Field in Garden City, N.Y., and Rockaway Townsquare Mall in Rockaway, N.J., by the end of the year, with a few more following in 2006.
For spring, the company has launched a higher-priced handbag collection called Diva, which will bow this week at the MAGIC Marketplace in Las Vegas. The Diva collection, which wholesales for $50 to $80, comprises totes, hobos, flight bags and smaller clutch bags designed in colorfully printed microfiber and trimmed in leather. The collection is positioned to go head-to-head with main-floor mainstays such as LeSportsac, Echo, Mandarina Duck and the lesser-priced selections from Coach.
Kipling also is pushing a new category within handbags: women’s work bags. These nylon bags include removable laptop cases, many pockets and a “key finder.” They’re geared toward a young working woman and wholesale from $40 to $65.
Both new lines are anticipated to retail on the main floor, alongside the company’s classic collections called Basic, Vintage and Star, which also will be moved to the main floor. The Basic collection incorporates the brand’s signature crinkled nylon in saturated shades such as crimson and ultramarine, along with whimsical nature-inspired prints, while the similar Vintage collection comes in a variety of seasonal colors such as saffron and olive green in the same fabric. Both collections wholesale from $25 to $50.
The Star collection is slightly higher priced, with bags made of nylon with leather trim. This collection wholesales from $40 to $65.
Tumi, the South Plainfield, N.J.-based luggage company, has distributed Kipling’s luggage and handbags in America since 1992 in luggage stores or within luggage areas of department stores such as Macy’s.
This fall, Kipling sold its handbags on the main floor in 17 Dillard’s stores, as opposed to in the luggage department, and the company intends to push its way onto the main floors in other better department stores, as well.
“When most people think of Kipling, they think of travel,” said Deborah Rudinsky, merchandising manager at The Doneger Group, a fashion forecasting and buying firm based here. “By opening the door to the main floor, where there is much more foot traffic, they have the ability to address not only department stores, but with the handbag business being stellar right now, they have a lot of ammunition to go after the specialties, as well.”
Kipling is named after Rudyard Kipling, and its signature involves attaching a monkey key chain to each of its styles in reference to the author’s “The Jungle Book.”
Outside the U.S., the brand also has such categories as eyewear, fashion jewelry and footwear. Kipling is looking to introduce some of these products, most likely starting with sunglasses and watches, to the U.S. market.
As is VF’s policy, the company is conducting extensive market research on the brand in the U.S. to find out how best to go about designs and market strategy. It expects to roll out a print and outdoor advertising campaign, to bow next spring.
VF’s sportswear business, which includes Nautica, John Varvatos and Kipling, saw a 22 percent increase in second-quarter sales to $127 million. VF doesn’t break down the numbers for its individual brands, although in a June 2004 statement from the company, it said Kipling’s sales were $69 million in 2003 and that sales were projected to hit $40 million in 2004.
Internationally, Kipling is opening a store on Regent Street in London this year and is looking to open others in Germany, France and Spain next year. The company plans to open 33 additional stores worldwide by mid-2006.
There are now 97 Kipling stores throughout Asia, South America and Europe.