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Ashley linked to future of USA Pro label

Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley is rumoured to be close to securing the rights to women’s sportswear brand USA Pro after it went into administration.

Part of the USA Pro company has been rescued by its founder Kevin Jarvis and its management team, who bought back the existing order books and fixtures and fittings this week via a new company called UP Brands.

Ashley, who is a major creditor of USA Pro, is understood to have put money into the brand last year, but administrators at insolvency firm Gallaghers were brought in last month after sales nosedived at its London Carnaby Street standalone store.

Ashley is thought to be negotiating for the distribution rights to the brand with Gallaghers.

UP Brands sales and marketing director Zoe Woolnough said Ashley was not a stakeholder in the UP Brands business, but declined to comment on speculation that the directors and administrators were negotiating with Ashley about how to repay his original investment. However, sources insisted Ashley was likely to play a major role in the future of the brand.

One sportswear operator said: “Mike Ashley will be ready to pounce if there is a chance to have any control.”

Another source familiar with the situation said Ashley saw potential in the brand. He said: “It’s good quality product that its customers love, but it has never been able to get the volume of sales needed to sustain itself.”

Woolnough said tough trading and delivery problems had hit USA Pro, whose wholesale accounts include Harrods, Fenwick, John Lewis, Sweaty Betty and She Active.

“On top of difficult trading we experienced big delivery issues and had a slow start in our own stores,” said Woolnough.

She added that UP Brands would honour all existing orders and there would be no changes to terms or pricing for existing customers. She added that UP Brands was prioritising what it saw as main opportunities for the business, including overseas expansion in several markets.

Separately, UP Brands has appointed Martin Webster, former finance director at lingerie supplier Sherwood Group, as finance director.

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