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First lady Karen Pence visits Vera Bradley store in Japan

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 - 10:17 am

The colorful quilted Vera Bradley handbags admired by many Hoosier women are also being sold in Japan. Indiana first lady Karen Pence visited the Vera Bradley store Tuesday at Marui Yurakucho in Ginza, Tokyo's most famous upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment district, to celebrate the designer's entrance into Japan.

Pence is accompanying her husband, Gov. Mike Pence, on a trade mission to Japan. The governor spoke Monday about Indiana's renewed commitment to strengthening the state's ties with that country during a speech at the opening ceremony of the 45th Annual Joint Meeting of the Midwest U.S.-Japan Association and Japan-Midwest U.S. Association.

Fort Wayne-headquartered Vera Bradley, which designs handbags, gifts, travel items and accessories, launched in Japan in April 2011 with a website and a pop-up store at the prestigious Isetan Shinjuku department store. This is the first international market that Vera Bradley has entered. The company now sells in 14 department stores throughout Japan's Kanto and Kansai regions.

Karen Pence said in a news release about her visit to the Toyko store, “My daughter Charlotte and I were thrilled to find this reminder of home here in Japan and see that love for this special brand really does cross cultures. It was exciting to discover for ourselves the real magnitude of Vera Bradley, which is proof that a great idea and a little Hoosier ingenuity can take you around the world.”

Vera Bradley's store manager and other associates at Marui Yurakucho, one of the company's best performing Tokyo locations, led Karen and Charlotte on a tour of the store and discussed the company's efforts to connect the brand with Japanese consumers. Representatives from the Japan External Trade Organization, which helped Vera Bradley get started in Tokyo, were also present.

Barbara Bradley Baekgaard and Patricia R. Miller started the company 31 years ago after they noticed a lack of feminine-looking luggage while waiting at an airport terminal. Today, their items are available at 79 Vera Bradley retail stores and 14 outlet stores across the United States. The company employs about 50 in Japan and 1,000 in Indiana and a total of 2,600.

Vera Bradley' announced last month that it plans to invest $26.6 million in its Fort Wayne operations, creating up to 128 jobs by 2017. It's the designer's second major expansion in northeast Indiana in less than two years. In 2011, the company made plans to invest $22.5 million to expand its Roanoke distribution center to 420,000 square feet, adding 124 jobs.