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Rebecca Minkoff takes aim at Asia's sexy tomboy shoppers

Designer Rebecca Minkoff smiles and waves with a musician after presenting her Fall/Winter 2012 collection during New York Fashion Week Febr
Designer Rebecca Minkoff smiles and waves with a musician after presenting her Fall/Winter 2012 collection during New York Fashion Week Febr

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - She is young, a sexy tomboy, Internet savvy and a fashion trendsetter rather than a follower. With money to burn, she is designer Rebecca Minkoff's ideal customer in a booming Asia.

The 32-year-old American designer, who is known mainly for her luxury handbags, has positioned Asia as a key part of the growth plan for the company she runs with her brother.

Minkoff, who showed her fall/winter collection at Japan Fashion Week, opened her store in Tokyo's trendy Ginza district in early 2012 and her New York shop will throw open its doors this year.

"We saw that there was tremendous opportunity," Minkoff said in an interview at the store. "From the beginning here we thought our consumer has really embraced the brand."

Chinese consumers have become the world's leading buyers of luxury goods, accounting for one quarter of the market globally with demand growing, according to a report by consulting firm Bain & Co.

Minkoff said the Ginza store was definitely one way to capture the Chinese market.

"It's refreshing for a tourist to walk in and buy several pieces when they were thinking of one designer handbag. Here they can walk in and buy three for the same price."

The most popular bag is the brand's Mini MAC, which sell for 26,000 yen ($270). The company does some exclusive bag models for the Japanese market, and much of the apparel is also designed with Japan in mind.

"We call ourselves a 'sexy tomboy brand' but there are ways of being sexy here that are different from the United States," Minkoff said. "I think here it's more tame - a lot of layering - so we make pieces that you can layer with as well."

POWERED BY SOCIAL MEDIA

Japanese interest came relatively soon after Minkoff decided to begin making bags in 2004. Much of the growth has been powered by strategic use of social media, including a blog, Facebook, Twitter and a YouTube channel.

Overall revenue projections for 2013 are $70 million, Minkoff said, up from $52 million to $53 million in 2012. While 80 percent of the company's business is in the United States, the part that is overseas is seen as the biggest growth opportunity.

The company is aiming to open five retail stores within the next two to three years, including some in China.

"We don't have any plans ironed out but it's definitely one of the places that we're very seriously targeting," she said. "(And) we're going to be opening stores in Korea, that's already in the planning phases."

Although growth in China slowed last year, Bain is still forecasting growth of 4 percent to 6 percent a year for the global luxury market through 2015.

"When it happens in China, Korea and here it'll be a really nice trifecta, because we've always had great customers from these three places," Minkoff said.

"We've had interest from India but we want to get our foothold into these places... We don't want to over-expand. We want to get strong and have each place be stable." ($1 = 95.0550 Japanese yen)

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Doina Chiacu)

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