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Liberty owner teams up with founder to acquire Jack Wills

Lauretta Roberts
02 October 2016

BlueGem Capital Partners, the owner of luxury department store Liberty, has teamed up with Jack Wills founder Peter Williams to acquire the preppy fashion brand from its long-term investor Inflexion.

Private equity firm BlueGem and Williams, who last year returned to the business he founded in 1999 to execute a turnaround, have joined forces to create an investment vehicle called Union Lifestyle Limited, which now owns 100% of the business.

Jack Wills

Peter Williams: Jack Wills founder

As a result of the deal "significant"  cash has been injected into Jack Wills to facilitate expansion in the UK and overseas. "The transaction with BlueGem is very exciting and the new capital allows us to continue our international expansion and fast paced revival," said Williams, according to WWD.

The deal has also resulted in Jack Wills’s chairman, Mervyn Davies, a former chief executive of Standard Chartered and Government minister, stepping down from his post. He is replaced by high street veteran Derek Lovelock, former chairman of Aurora Fashions (owner of Oasis and Warehouse) and chairman of retailer Mamas & Papas (another BlueGem-owned business).

Jack Wills

New chairman Derek Lovelock

While financial details of the deal were not released the business has released some numbers for the year ending 31 January. Turnover was up 4.1% to £137.4m while EBITDA, or earnings dropped to £5.1m. However a a series of exceptional items associated with distribution issues led to to a £13.8m operating loss.

Jack Wills had hit a bad patch in late 2014 after a decision was made to move its distribution to a third-party logistics supplier (a move which has since been reversed) which continued to impact performance until the first half of this year.

The business plans to open 13 new stores this year. In 2015-2016 it opened four new stores and refitted five, bringing the total number of wholly owned stores to 81, of which there are 66 in the UK, eight in the US, five in Hong Kong, and one each in Singapore and Macau.

BlueGem was founded in 2007 and its retail investments include Mamas & Papas and department store Liberty which it bought into in 2013 and has said it intends to float within the next two years.

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