Japan's second-largest lingerie business Wacoal has bought a 49% stake in a younger rival, Peach John, and is now preparing to bring the smaller company's operations in-house.

Wacoal hopes to reposition itself with younger buyers through the John Peach brand, which has garnered thousands of young fans since the company's inception by a young Japanese woman, Mika Noguchi, when she started a home shopping company with her husband in 1988.

Last year Peach John registered sales of more than JPY16bn ( US$137m), making it one of Japan's most successful small companies. The company has twenty shops but does most of business through mail order. 

Retail analyst Japanconsuming.com comments that the merger will help Wacoal counter some of its main weaknesses, help it escape from its traditional position in the middle to upper end of the market, and shore up its defences against a possible takeover bid from overseas.

Wacoal sales were worth JPY160bn until May of this year. The business has been investing heavily in its own brands while indulging in a buying spree at home and abroad to bolster shareholder confidence.

Wacoal said it will continue to add to the mix by acquiring cosmetics lines, while expanding Peach John's move into coats bags, shoes, fragrances and health supplements.

By Michael Fitzpatrick