A look from the spring collection of Woolrich John Rich & Bros.

NEW YORK — Woolrich has a new partner.

The venerable American label that has been producing wool in Pennsylvania since 1830, has sold a minority stake in its business to Goldwin Inc., a Tokyo-based manufacturer and seller of technical sportswear to expand the label internationally.

Under the terms of the deal that will be announced today, Goldwin has purchased shares from WP Lavori in Corso, Woolrich International’s majority shareholder, and has also committed a “dedicated capital increase.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

As a result of the partnership, Goldwin will create a new premium outdoor collection that will incorporate state-of-the-art technology with a modern design aesthetic. The first men’s line will debut for fall 2018 and will target fashion and outdoors retailers in North America, Europe and Asia.

“This is a new chapter in Woolrich’s story since the brand has historically produced the core of our product with wool and we will now increase our offering adding new performance technologies for a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts,” said Andrea Cane, Woolrich’s creative director. “I’ve always respected Goldwin’s dedication to the development of superior performancewear. Their vision to invent creatively, and their uncompromising attention to function is what makes them a leader in the industry. Our collection with them will be released over a period of time as Goldwin begins to unveil their newest technologies.”

The news about Goldwin follows on the heels of last November’s merger between Woolrich Inc., the American arm of the company, and Woolrich Europe, the licensee of the trademark for Europe and Asia that was owned by WP Lavori in Corso. The Italy-based WP Lavori has been a partner to Woolrich since 1984, starting as a licensee in Italy and then expanding into Europe and Asia. It is responsible for the creation of the successful and more fashion-forward Woolrich John Rich & Bros. collection, a line focused mainly on outerwear that is carried in 45 countries around the world.

Woolrich International had sales of $190 million in fiscal-year 2016 and is projecting an annual average growth of 12 percent from 2017 to 2020 and sales of $300 million within three years.

“This transaction is part of a global strategy to develop the Woolrich brand internationally, and the partnership with Goldwin will support this process both from a financial and industrial standpoint,” said Paolo Corinaldesi, Woolrich International’s chief executive officer.

Nick Brayton, president of Woolrich Inc., and a descendant of founder John Rich, added: “This agreement is a milestone in the growth of an iconic American brand and it will translate into further acceleration of our growth. As seventh generation of the Woolrich family, I could not be more proud of what this project means for the future of Woolrich.”

In an interview, Cane said the partnership with Goldwin is part of the company’s move to develop a global brand with a more streamlined operating structure. Woolrich has three divisions: Woolrich Outdoor, a moderately priced outdoors line, Woolrich John Rich & Bros., the contemporary offering, and a collection of wool textiles and blankets that it creates at its mill in Pennsylvania.

Cane said that starting next year, all three collections will be marketed under the Woolrich name so as to eliminate confusion. To support the push, the company will also open several flagships around the world that will incorporate all three collections in one location for the first time.

Andrea Cane, Woolrich's global creative director

Andrea Cane, Woolrich’s global creative director. 

The first larger-format store is in Milan will have its official opening on Nov. 3 and five additional units will be rolled out in the U.S., Europe and Asia by 2020. Cane said the Woolrich Outdoor line will replace the Woolrich Green line that “wasn’t performing” well and was positioned on the other end of the spectrum from Woolrich John Rich & Bros. outerwear-heavy premium collection.

“There is a real discrepancy between the outdoor label and the outerwear label,” he said. “So we decided to relaunch the outdoor label.”

Prices are expected to average around $700 to $900 for coats with parkas selling for around $1,200, which “are not far away” from Woolrich John Rich & Bros.

The new Woolrich Outdoor collection will be rooted in Northeastern outdoor activities and will combine stylish, modern designs with the high-tech fabrics and functionality. Takao Watanabe, vice president of Goldwin, said the mission of the new outdoor collection is to “provide uncompromising functionality” that speaks to the “complex and mutual relationship with nature and seeks new discoveries.” He said the designs are intended to bring “a new style of outdoor apparel for the next generation.”

It may also use petroleum-free synthetic protein materials codeveloped with Spiber Inc., a Japanese start-up. “We aim to [help] the outdoor industry to coexist with nature,” he said.

Watanabe said Woolrich has a rich history in the American outdoor market and we are excited to be a part of the global expansion of an iconic American heritage brand.” He said Goldwin will put its mark on the outdoor brand by utilizing its “proven know-how and capability of designing world-class outdoor garments and operating the most advanced retail concepts in the world.” The company has experience in various categories including ski, athletic, tennis, outdoor, marine, rugby and others, he said.

With the Woolrich outdoor collection, he said the plan is to “integrate the very latest in fabric technology and garment construction with the heritage of Woolrich” and its “woolen fabric-based classic sportswear.”

A marketing image for the new outdoors line.

A marketing image for the new outdoors line.  水谷太郎

Cane admitted that the outdoors industry is “very competitive and difficult to get into,” and that was the primary impetus for the partnership with Goldwin. The publicly held company was founded in 1950 as a knit factory and today produces collections for The North Face, Helly Hansen, Danskin, Ellesse and others. It operates a technical center in Japan where it studies the movement and physiological changes within the human body that it then translates into the design of its products.

Cane said that the Woolrich John Rich & Bros. label will also see some changes and will now be merchandised under just the Woolrich name. “Everything will be under the Woolrich name.”

The John Rich & Bros. brand is a full collection for men and women and offers knitwear, shirts and other categories, but its primary focus is outerwear. It is strongest in Europe and doesn’t have a very large presence in the U.S., which the company is hoping to change. It offers shoes in Europe, which it will expand to the U.S. market shortly after a licensing deal currently in place expires.

Turning to the retail plan, Cane said that as the first flagship, the 7,500-square-foot Milan store on Corso Venezia, will sell Woolrich blankets in addition to the outdoor and outerwear collections.

Although no location has been decided upon yet, he said New York will be the site of the second flagship. “We already have a store in New York,” he said, “but the flagship has to be at least 4,000 square feet.”

Boston, Toronto, London, Paris and Tokyo are also in the plans, he said.

Cane said the collaborations that the brand has had with OVO (a company from the singer Drake), Supreme, New Balance and others are also a sign of its direction.

All of these partnerships have been for men’s wear only and Cane hinted that women’s collaborations are in the offing as well. “We wanted to have a clean business strategy first,” he explained. “Doing things like this can be risky for a brand this old.”

Cane said respecting the heritage of the Woolrich — which is best known in the U.S. for its buffalo plaid shirts and blankets — and pushing it forward is a delicate balancing act. “We don’t want to go too far into fashion, but we have to be contemporary.”     

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