• Bloomberg


Yusaku Maezawa, the Japanese billionaire who sold his online apparel company to Masayoshi Son and is preparing to ride around the moon on Elon Musk’s spacecraft, jumped back into the country’s business scene Thursday with a set of unlikely bets on brick-and-mortar clothing retailers.

In a set of filings, Maezawa disclosed stakes making him the third-largest shareholder in fashion retailers United Arrows Ltd. and Adastria Co. The holdings are worth a combined ¥7.6 billion ($71 million).

While the stock purchases were for investment purposes, Maezawa may also "give advice or make proposals to management to improve enterprise value if needed, assuming a friendly relationship can be created with management,” the filings said.

Both companies sell their goods on Zozotown, the fashion portal that Maezawa sold to SoftBank Group Corp. unit Z Holdings Inc. last year. United Arrows and Adastria could both use the help of a deep-pocketed investor. Like many Japanese clothing retailers, their shares have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic which has kept shoppers at home.

United Arrows ended up 14.4 percent on Friday, after shooting up as much as 21 percent earlier. Adastria closed up 5.5 percent.

Spokeswomen for both companies said that they had been informed of Maezawa’s stake in advance of the disclosure, which is required by Japanese law once a shareholder’s stake exceeds 5 percent. Both said they had yet to receive any specific proposals from the former Zozo chief. A spokesperson for Maezawa declined to comment, though Maezawa himself did tweet a Japanese media article on the purchases.

Since cashing out of Zozo, Maezawa has hardly been quiet: Tabloid speculation on his love life, a series of cash giveaways on his well-followed Twitter account and a short-lived plan to star in a TV documentary to find him a girlfriend have all kept one of Japan’s richest men — worth $3.5 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index — in the public spotlight.

But apart from a plan to set up a ¥10 billion startup fund and reports over his taxes, the man who built a fortune before the age of 40 has had little time in the business pages.

United Arrows, which has around 360 stores in Japan, is projecting an operating loss of ¥5 billion to ¥7 billion this fiscal year, with shares down 57 percent since the start of 2020. Shares in Adastria, which operates a multitude of casual and high-end fashion brands, have declined 35 percent.

"Zozo’s ex-CEO could advise on the digitization of supply chains,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Catherine Lim. "Successful transformation of traditional supply chains that facilitate offline-online sales could help raise both companies’ competitive edge and longer-term profitability.”

While Maezawa stepped down from managing Zozo after the Z Holdings takeover, he retains a 17.5 percent stake that is the source of much of his wealth. Shares in Zozo are up 35 percent this year as more Japanese consumers embraced web shopping for clothes during the coronavirus pandemic.

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