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Jack Wills Brand Bought by Founder and Liberty Owner

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Jack Wills
Struggling British brand Jack Wills is getting a new lease on life.

Founder and chief executive Peter Williams partnered with private-equity firm BlueGem Capital Partners, owner of storied London department store Liberty, to form a new entity known as Union Lifestyle in order to purchase 100 percent of the preppy clothing chain’s share capital.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed but Inflexion Private Equity, a minority stakeholder since July 2007, has exited the business, while chairman Mervyn Davies has been replaced by Derek Lovelock from the Mamas & Papas stroller brand.

“The transaction with BlueGem is very exciting and the new capital allows us to continue our international expansion and fast-paced revival,” Williams said in a statement quoted by Fashion Network, noting the firm’s “proven track record” of building successful partnerships with the likes of Liberty.

Founded in 1999, Jack Wills targets the 16- to 24-year-old market with “fabulously British” apparel, homewares and accessories in 80-plus stores across four continents. But the brand recently suffered a multimillion-pound loss, partly relating to the relocation of its distribution center from London to Sheffield, eventually prompting rumors that Inflexion was looking to sell its 27 percent stake.

In the year ended Jan. 31, turnover rose 4.1% to 137.4 million pounds ($176.5 million), but EBITDA before exceptional items plunged 41.4% to 5.1 million pounds ($6.5 million).

“The underlying financial health of Jack Wills is strong,” Williams insisted. “The performance of the business during 2015/16 shows a real year of two halves with a dramatic improvement in profitability in the second half. The numbers clearly show that momentum has returned and significant results are being delivered. Importantly, this improvement in trading has continued into the first half of the current year.”

Jack Wills plans to open 13 new stores before the end of January. It’s also working on making its supply chain more transparent through “Fabric of Jack,” a section on its website that opens the doors to the brand’s factories and mills.

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