Onward Kashiyama’s men’s business is improving, but there’s still work to be done, particularly at the venerable J. Press brand, which the company acquired in 1986.

Although J. Press has become one of the top-selling brands in Japan, the business has stagnated in its home country, and the Tokyo-based company is determined to change that.

“The U.S. is very challenging,” admitted Akinori Baba, president of Onward Kashiyama Co. Ltd., during a visit to the Liberty Fairs men’s trade show earlier this week. “The business has not grown significantly.”

He said for the past few decades, the “whole focus was on American brands in Japan and we’d hoped that the U.S. would have grown as well, but it didn’t.”

So the company made changes in management and design earlier this year and is looking to add up to 10 stores in key American cities over the next five years, as reported. J. Press currently operates four stores in the U.S. and is looking for a space in midtown Manhattan for a flagship.

“What’s most important,” Baba said, “is that we create one unified brand that is globally attractive.” He said the Tokyo-based design team is working toward that goal now.

Eventually, he believes J. Press can also expand to Europe, however “we need to have the right foundation here in the U.S. before we venture out.”

In addition to J. Press, Onward Kashiyama also brought its made-in-Japan tailored clothing concept Gotairiku to the U.S. for the first time in hopes of gaining a foothold here. “We’re trying to infuse a little Japan into the U.S.”

Baba said the reaction to the line at Liberty was less robust than he had hoped. “The show is very sportswear-oriented and we’re showing tailored clothing,” he said.

Beyond that, he cited “huge potential” for the company’s other men’s brands, Jil Sander and Joseph. He said Jil Sander’s new creative director, Rodolfo Paglialunga, is having a positive impact on the label and “orders are increasing.”

Although Baba said Onward is not really in the market to acquire or start another brand at this point, he didn’t rule out a possible addition. “If a good brand were to come up, we’d be interested,” he said, noting that a strong accessories brand would be of interest, but only if it “had a brand story and a strong point of view.”

But in apparel, he said the priority is to grow what Onward already has in its stable. “That’s our first priority,” he said.

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