Australia American giant plans assault

US sports apparel juggernaut Under Armour has tagged Australia as a key growth market that will help fuel its energetic ambitions to double sales to $US4 billion by 2016, making it the latest in a growing invasion of overseas fashion retailers to hit our shores.

US sports apparel juggernaut Under Armour has tagged Australia as a key growth market that will help fuel its energetic ambitions to double sales to $US4 billion by 2016, making it the latest in a growing invasion of overseas fashion retailers to hit our shores.

Under Armour CEO, founder and Forbes rich-lister Kevin Plank has told investors the international market represented the 17-year-old clothing company's biggest opportunity, with its maiden Australian store slated to open next year and the group also in talks with Rebel Sport to expand their strategic relationship.

BusinessDay can reveal Rebel is close to inking a deal with Under Armour to act as its exclusive wholesale distributor in Australia after taking over the local rights to the brand from Playcorp, a private investment vehicle owned by retail billionaire Solomon Lew.

Under the proposed deal Rebel will sell and heavily promote the brand, also working alongside the Baltimore-based Under Armour as it opens standalone retail stores.

Rebel was purchased by the ASX-listed Super Retail Group in late 2011 for $610 million and is Australia's biggest sports equipment and clothing chain. It sells a limited range of Under Armour apparel.

Rebel's management believe the Under Armour range, with its heavy emphasis on specialist merchandise and equipment for runners and joggers, will have a strong appeal to Australian shoppers, especially people heavily involved in fitness and outdoor endurance events.

Created in Mr Plank's basement in 1996, Under Armour has a cult following among its fans and is at the cutting edge of running apparel including offering clothing and footwear used for endurance events such as Tough Mudder that, along with other gruelling outdoor races, is booming in Australia.

Under Armour, which last year hit sales of $US1.8 billion, a 25 per cent increase on the previous year, has recently switched its distribution systems and is preparing to roll out a network of retail and franchise stores in key Australian cities while also working with Rebel.

It will also open in nine other countries as it strives to more than double sales in the next three years.

It marks the latest in a long line of offshore retailers and fashion brands to seek out a physical presence in the region, building upon their well-known brands and websites to also offer a bricks-and-mortar store network to eager Australian shoppers.

US homeware giant Williams-Sonoma opened its maiden store in Australia last month, and is set to open its second in Melbourne soon on the back of huge support from local shoppers for its Pottery Barn and West Elm brands.

Others retailers to flock to Australia or announcing plans to come here have included Spanish fast-fashion chain Zara, Japanese department store Uniqlo and Swedish store H&M.

British website ASOS recently nominated Australia as the largest single foreign market for the global fashion group.

Hip American fashion brand Hollister, part of retail giant Abercrombie & Fitch with yearly sales of more than $US4 billion, has confirmed it is planning an expansion into Australia.



HERE THEY COME

Foreign brands that are here or on the way:

Williams-Sonoma (US, owns Pottery Barn, West Elm)

Zara (Spanish fast fashion)

Topshop (British fashion)

Hollister (US surf and streetwear)

Abercrombie & Fitch (US fashion)

Uniqlo (Japanese department store)

H&M (Swedish department store)

Lululemon (yoga, sports gear)

Victoria's Secret (lingerie)

Sephora (cosmetics)

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