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Exclusive: Hush secures investment to spur growth

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Womenswear retailer Hush has received investment from private equity firm True, which will be used to support its expansion into new channels and markets.

True has acquired a controlling interest – roughly a 50% stake – in Hush. Further details of the transaction have not been disclosed.

The existing management team will remain in place, including founder Mandy Watkins, who is creative director, and her husband and business partner, Rupert Youngman, who looks after the marketing and ecommerce functions in his role as director.

Hush and True said the deal had been a long time in the making and reflected their “shared ambition in the digital retail space”. True is the majority shareholder in organic childrenswear firm Frugi and online furniture retailer The Cotswold Company, among others.

This is the first time Hush, which Watkins founded in 2003, has sought external investment. Its annual turnover has quadrupled over the past four years, and is now in excess of £50m.

“We never thought [Hush] would get to a fraction of the size it is,” Youngman told Drapers. “We could have carried on [without outside investment], but we felt that there was real value in bringing in a partner with a similar vision to us, but different skills, to help us grow.”

He added: ”We’ve always looked at it as different chapters. Chapter one was start-up. The second chapter started about seven years ago when we decided to professionalise the business, which we’ve done over the last few years – we’ve introduced a senior management team.

“This is the next chapter, which is looking beyond the two sales channels we have now, and at international markets.”

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Rupert Youngman and Mandy Watkins

Hush currently sells women’s clothing, shoes and lifestyle products such as candles through its own website and a partnership with John Lewis, online and via 36 concessions in stores. 

Youngman hinted at possible partnerships with “other retailers” in the UK, as well as plans to open a handful of its own bricks-and-mortar stores, although the latter will be reassessed after the coronavirus pandemic subsides.

“We were looking at a dozen stores in strategic cities and towns around the UK, rather than a big store estate,” said Youngman. “We will see how the dust settles [after the coronavirus lockdown] – I think there’s going to be a monumental shake-up in retail.”

International expansion is firmly on the cards, although Watkins and Youngman could not confirm any specific target markets in the current climate.

Matt Truman, co-founder and CEO of True, which also counts food and drinks company Soulfresh, indoor cycling app Zwift and online bike manufacturer Ribble Cycles among its portfolio, said: “At True, we invest in businesses that are at the forefront of the consumer behavioural shift.

“We have spent several years building a brilliant relationship with the Hush team and we are delighted to be partnering with them for this next stage of growth. The business is ideally positioned to grow its share of both the UK and international clothing markets due to its agile, digital-first business model, loyal customer base and relevant, contemporary product range.

“We think highly profitable, predominantly direct-to-consumer brands such as Hush and other businesses in our portfolio are the ones that will emerge in best shape from this current crisis – and completing the transaction now demonstrates that we’re very much open for business and excited about the opportunity ahead of us.”

Watkins and Youngman said Hush traded “strongly” in April, after a challenging couple of weeks around the start of the lockdown in March.

“We’re fortunately place because we don’t have a big reliance on [bricks-and-mortar] stores and our product is very home-working friendly,” they explained.

The couple pointed out that they also value their relationships with customers, calling it a “real community”: “We’ve scaled back on a lot of marketing spend, and we’ve concentrated on just talking to our customers, building relationships. Back to the basics of when you’re starting a brand.”

They added that their team has done an “amazing job” of adapting to the new normal, and keeping the business up-and-running throughout the lockdown period.

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