UK clothing and homewares retailer Laura Ashley has been bought out of administration just weeks after announcing it was permanently closing 70 stores.
Global advisory and investment firm Gordon Brothers has acquired the brand, its archives, and related intellectual property from the Laura Ashley group’s UK administrators.
As new owners, Gordon Brothers will partner with management to evaluate several go-to-market strategies for the business, some of which could include retaining a streamlined portfolio of retail stores in key markets within the UK and Ireland.
The investment firm, which last week sold the Bench brand, says it intends to place a strong emphasis on building e-commerce, developing more strategic wholesale relationships, and expanding the portfolio of licensees and franchisees globally.
“Laura Ashley is a true giant among British lifestyle brands, possessing a unique ability to span geographies, product categories, and price points,” says Ramez Toubassy, president of brands for Gordon Brothers. “We feel humbled and inspired by the responsibility to reignite Mrs Ashley’s original vision while delivering unique and contemporary products to both long-time followers and new customers from around the world.”
Founded in 1953 by husband and wife team Bernard and Laura Ashley, the business grew into a globally recognised retail, wholesale, licensing, and franchising business selling both home furnishings and fashion products.
More recently, the brand expanded globally with outposts in markets as varied as South Korea, the Ukraine, the US, and Japan.
“Throughout this process, Gordon Brothers has shown a passion for the Laura Ashley brand and I am delighted that, under their ownership, there will be a real opportunity to grow its profile worldwide,” adds Rob Lewis, joint administrator of several of the Laura Ashley group companies in the UK.
“Whilst we have taken an important step forward in securing the sale of the brand, we continue to explore opportunities to reshape the UK store based retail and manufacturing businesses and are very grateful for the efforts of the entire team at Laura Ashley in helping us with those discussions.”
Laura Ashley announced its intention to appoint administrators in early March after the coronavirus outbreak resulted in an “immediate and significant impact on trading,” offsetting a 24% year-on-year improvement in business performance for the seven weeks to 13 March.
Sofie Willmott, lead analyst at GlobalData, believes the sale agreement with stores excluded brings more bad news for retail landlords who have been hard hit as non-essential retailers have been forced to close stores with some refusing or unable to pay rent.
“The format of the sale follows a similar pattern to other fashion brands that have been rescued in the past few years including Karen Millen, Coast and Orla Kiely – all of which have lived on but without their physical stores, as retail spend continues to shift online.
“If other fashion brands that have tumbled into administration in recent weeks including Oasis, Warehouse and Cath Kidston, are rescued, sale agreements are likely to follow the same format, with the physical high street’s troubles exacerbated by COVID-19. With more retail casualties expected in the coming months and shoppers set to be wary of returning to shopping locations once they are able to, landlords are likely to end up with many more empty units by the end of 2020.”