Bape…. Sold!!

Influential Japanese-born streetwear brand, A Bathing Ape (aka BAPE), was acquired by a Chinese apparel maker, the latest in the growing wave of acquisitions of Japanese firms by their Asian competitors, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Hong Kong-based, I.T Ltd., is set to purchase an approximately 90% stake in Nowhere Co., the Japanese operator of BAPE, for a reported 230 million yen (or $2.8 million at current exchange rates) from founder Tomoaki Nagao, also known a Nigo.

The price-tag stunned most, especially since BAPE was thought to be valued at much more.

Apparently, the company behind BAPE was suffering. The WSJ reports that in recent years, the Nowhere Group has taken significant losses. For the fiscal year, ending August 31, 2010, its recorded a net loss of 119 million yen, slightly better than a loss of 267.4 million yen the previous year. And, it had had liabilities totaling 1.03 billion yen in the year ended August 31.

In addition to the purchase, I.T will also guarantee the company’s outstanding loans of 2.6 billion yen.

In a press release, I.T said it will “promptly rationalize Nowhere Group’s capital structure to restore a healthy balance sheet and positive cashflow. It is anticipated that measures to be taken will include implementation of stringent cost controls.”

“We are delighted about this acquisition of Nowhere, which owns of some of the most sought-after brands in street wear fashion,” said Sham Kar Wai, I.T chairman and chief executive, in a statement. “We believe that this acquisition will broaden the brand portfolio of our Group and increase our market share in the street wear fashion in Greater China. It will also help position us better in tapping into the international market.”

BAPE was founded by Nigo in 1993, as a single shop on a backstreet in Tokyo’s trendy Harajuku district. The company’s t-shirts, hoodies and jeans, designed by Nigo, acquired a cult following among young Japanese men and was later embraced by hip-hop icons such as Kanye West, and Pharrell Williams.

At one point, BAPE t-shirts could fetch as much as $75 for a single tee, while other products, such as jeans, sneakers, and hoodies could sell in the hundreds of dollars.

Nigo will reportedly stay on as creative director at BAPE for the first 2 years to oversee the transition.

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