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Exclusive: Mint Velvet launches in US and Australia

The investment from Lewis Trust Group’s (LTG) takeover of Mint Velvet will back the womenswear retailer’s ambitious growth plans, co-founder and CEO Liz Houghton has told Drapers.

LTG, the investment business set up by the Lewis family, who founded River Island, took control of Mint Velvet last week. The family bought a “significant” stake in Mint Velvet in December 2015.

“We’ve got a very clear strategy in terms of what we’re doing over the next three to five years,” said Houghton, as it launches its first concessions in the US and Australia. “There is an ambition to grow a lot, and this new investment will facilitate that.”

The strategy focuses on international expansion, increasing the UK store portfolio and digital growth.

Last week, the brand launched in the US via concessions in department store chain Von Maur, and is set to launch concessions in Australian department store David Jones this week.

“The US was an obvious market for us, because there was no language barrier and it’s a massive market,” Houghton said. “In terms of Australia, we see ourselves as relaxed glamour, and so the clothing is a natural fit in there, where the culture is so relaxed.”

The brand opened seven new stores in UK market towns last year, and the rate of growth is set to continue for 2019.

“We’re in a lot of discussions with landlords at the moment,” Houghton said. “The focus isn’t necessarily market town stores as it was before. We just recently relocated in Edinburgh, and we doubled our space there. It’s about finding the right market and the right terms.”

Mint Velvet now has a total of 136 locations, including standalone stores, concessions and outlets.

However, the biggest growth opportunity for the brand, says Houghton, is digital: “Digital is the area of most investment. We were quite a lean team, so we have invested in some new heads to deliver that, including a head of ecommerce, alongside increasing the data analytics team.

“We’re working really heard to create the seamless link between stores and ecommerce for our customer.”

Despite a difficult retail climate, Mint Velvet continues to perform strongly. Turnover at its holding company, Sabre Retail Fashion, rose 15.5% to £101m in the year to 28 April. Its group operating profit was up 10% to £13.9m, driven by strong performance online.

Houghton explained that the resilience of Mint Velvet is reliant on its agility.

“It’s tough out there,” she said. “You can just see that even in some affluent market towns where people were fighting over stores, they now lie vacant. Mint Velvet started in 2009, which was just after the financial crash, so we grew up in difficult times, making us an agile business.”

She added: “Being a relatively new business, we’re not hit by the legacy issues that other retailers currently have. We’re agile in our thought process and we have a really agile management team with lots of different solutions.”

Mint Velvet was founded in 2009 by its chief executive Liz Houghton, brand director Lisa Agar-Rea, design director Jane Rawlings and former chief operating officer Stuart Grant.

Houghton and Agar-Rea will continue to run the business following the LTG takeover.

 

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