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Body Glove Signs Itochu to Grow in Japan

Jean E. Palmieri

Body Glove had its best year ever in 2019 and even managed to beat sales expectations in the first six months of this year — despite the pandemic. Now it’s looking to Asia for further growth.

The water sports brand, which was founded in 1953, has signed a multiyear master license with Itochu to expand the brand in the Japanese market.

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Although Body Glove has had a presence in Japan for three decades, Peter Maule, global senior vice president for the brand, said it was a “passive” relationship and the licensee basically operated independently.

Maule said the deal with Itochu, which is for three years with an option to renew, is expected to be more of a partnership. The plan is three-pronged: to expand distribution with major retailers in that country, increase business with existing licenses and add new ones.

Installing shop-in-shops is also seen as an option. “In our past structure, the licensee didn’t have the relationships to go down that path,” he said, adding that he hopes the first of these will open as early as next year.

Maule said Body Glove expects volume in that market to “double quite easily” within the next 24 to 36 months to reach $15 million to $20 million. Overall, Body Glove has volume of some $325 million at retail.

Maule expects the brand to get a bump next year when the rescheduled Tokyo Summer Olympics take place. The brand sponsors Brazilian surfer Tatiana Weston Webb, who is ranked sixth in the world. She is an ambassador for the label and also has her own eco-friendly Body Glove swim line that launched this summer.

“We’re going to use our marketing force to expand our business in Japan,” he said.

“There’s such a demand for water sports in Japan, and also for American brands,” he said.

For four years, Body Glove has been owned by Marquee Brands. Before the acquisition, Maule said the brand “went through a cycle where it lost a bit of its identity.” But Marquee has invested in the business.

Maule said because of new licenses, expanded retail distribution, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, and a focus on direct-to-consumer selling, the brand had a “record year” in 2019. “And we hit our annual forecast at the end of June,” he added. “People want to be at the beach and outside.”

Body Glove is sold in 108 countries, but North America represents 80 percent of overall sales. But of late, the company has made strides in Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. and the European Union.

It has more than 70 licensed categories, ranging from wetsuits and beach towels to waterproof electronics and kids’ underwear. Its most popular categories are swimwear, inflatable stand-up paddle boards and kayaks as well as other aquatic products such as personal flotation devices.

Body Glove was founded in 1953 by Bill and Bob Meistrell and is credited with creating the first wetsuit. Two of the founders’ grandsons continue to be involved in the brand today.

Itochu was founded in 1858 and is the third largest trading company in Japan. It has the license for Paul Smith, Laura Ashley, Converse, Vivienne Westwood and others.