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Ascena Is Said to Explore the Sale of Its Dressbarn Retail Chain

Ascena Retail Group Inc. continues to clean out its closets.

The parent of Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant is exploring options for its lower-priced women’s clothing chain, Dressbarn, according to people familiar with the matter. It’s shopping the chain to potential buyers, said the people, who declined to be identified because the process isn’t public.

The company didn’t reply to requests for comment.

Any potential move comes as retailers face challenges that include a costly battle to ward off Inc. as it pushes deeper into apparel. Value retailers like Dressbarn are also up against fast-fashion rivals like H&M and Zara, which have won over a growing portion of younger shoppers.

The process is still unfolding, said the people, and no decisions have been made. If a sale isn’t completed, the chain could face the possibility of shuttering, they said.

Ascena has tallied more than $1 billion in losses over the past four years and labors under about $1.6 billion in debt, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In its earnings report on March 14, Ascena Chief Executive Officer David Jaffe said the company’s value-priced unit was “operating at an unacceptable level of profitability.” Less than two weeks later, it announced the sale of a majority stake in its Maurices chain to a private equity firm.

Roslyn and Elliot Jaffe opened the first Dressbarn in 1962 in Stamford, Connecticut, according to the chain’s website, with Rosyln choosing the name shortly before it opened to denote fashion and value. After acquiring several other women’s and kids’ clothing brands, the company reorganized its structure in 2011 and changed its name to Ascena. The Mahwah, New Jersey-based company has built up a conglomeration of retail chains, most recently with the 2015 purchase of Ann Taylor and Loft brands.

The chain operated 674 Dressbarn stores as of Feb. 2, according to its most recent quarterly filing. That reflects the closure of 49 Dressbarn locations during the period.