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Next Says China-Made U.K. Olympic Suits to Promote Brand Abroad

Next Plc, the U.K.’s second-largest clothing retailer, said a multi-million-pound sponsorship deal to fit out British Olympians in 220-pound ($357) Chinese-made suits will help promote its brand as it targets growth abroad.

Next, the official formalwear sponsor of London 2012, will start selling the navy suits with the British Olympic Association’s “Better Never Stops” motto under the collar and gold handkerchief from May 19 at 31 of its 500-plus U.K. stores.

The sponsorship, which cost “a few million pounds,” is more about “promoting the brand and particularly now we’re developing an international business,” Chief Executive Officer Simon Wolfson said in an interview in London. “I don’t think we’ll see any overnight or instant impact from the Olympics.”

Next is pushing into Russia and sees opportunities to expand its presence online in eastern Europe, Australia and the U.S. to compensate for declining U.K. sales.

“It might bring about some familiarity, though I’m not sure anyone would start opening up their wallets,” Daniela Nedialkova, an analyst at Atlantic Equities who covers U.S. retailers including Macy’s Inc, Coach Inc. and J Crew Group Inc. said of the impact of the sponsorship on U.S. consumers.

Next’s retail sales fell 3.9 percent in the first quarter and Wolfson expects a “very subdued” year for the industry.

The official “Team GB” logo and badges will be removed from the replica suit and the navy tie to be worn by British Olympians isn’t for sale, designer Michael Woodhouse said in an interview. A laser-cut gold and navy dress to be worn by the country’s female competitors also won’t be available as it couldn’t be produced cheaply enough for sale to Next customers.

Opening Ceremony

More than 1,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes have been fitted out with the suits and are expected to wear them during the July 27 Opening Ceremony, at sponsorship events and at an official meeting with the Queen.

“This is a high quality suit that will see a life much more beyond the Olympics,” rower Andy Triggs Hodge said in an interview. He plans to wear it to a ball and fundraising events.

The outfit was made from wool woven in Yorkshire, northern England, and was manufactured in China due to “cost pressures,” Woodhouse, the designer, said.

Next is offering casual-wear such as London 2012 t-shirts depicting Olympic mascot Wenlock for 12 pounds and a 10-pound London 2012 red British bus model on its web site and in stores.

“It’s difficult to know with the Olympics, I’m sure it will stimulate some demand, but at the same time people are probably going to stay in to watch television,” Wolfson said. “In the scheme of the year, it won’t make a lot of difference”

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