Japan's leading vast and amorphous trading company Itochu, which already owns large chunks of Japan's and China's apparel business, has taken a controlling stake in ailing Japanese underwear company Maruko Co.

Itochu, which has had close ties with the maker and retailer over the last 20 years, said this the first time it has actually purchased shares in the company which it did so by buying shares from the controlling family that founded the company.

Itochu now holds 26.46% of shares in terms of voting rights.

The deal is another example of the shift down the distribution pipe to ownership of retail operations for trading companies in Japan.

By Michael Fitzpatrick.