Sportswear giants thought to be leading race to buy young fashion brand.
The retailers, both of which are understood to be in the running for Firetrap, are keen to add more brands to their extensive portfolios. Firetrap has drafted in accountant PricewaterhouseCoopers to explore its options, including a sale or investment.
It is the second time in as many months that the sportswear giants have been pitted against each other to acquire a business. In January, JD Sports bought Blacks out of administration for £20m. Following the deal, Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley called on the OFT to investigate the outdoor and sports market.
Peter Smedley, analyst at Charles Stanley Securities, said Firetrap, founded in 1991, is attractive for each company. “Both have a track record of snapping up tired brands at distressed prices. They are focused on buying brands to give them a differentiated product and thereby protecting them from stiff price competition.”
Steve Spellacy, former JD Sports buying director and owner of distributor Bad Pennie, said: “This comes as no surprise. The old brand/retailer arrangement has long since died and unless brands can adapt to the new rules of engagement they will suffer and maybe even die. The customer no longer has any affiliation to a single brand, unless they are massively on trend, such as K-Way, Superga or Vans.
“There will be more casualties over the coming months and it’s simply a case of whether any brand that gets carved from the herd fits in to JD’s or Sports Direct’s model.”
JD Sports snapped up menswear brands Peter Werth and Cecil Gee last year, along with young fashion brand Fly53, which sit within the retailer’s Focus Group division.
Sports Direct bought branded fashion retailer USC and premium chain Cruise last year, at which time it set up a premium lifestyle division. If Sports Direct buys Firetrap, owned by World Design & Trade, which also owns women’s young fashion brand Fullcircle, it could be added to the division.
Miles Gray, former chief executive of Ben Sherman and chairman of denim label Monkee Genes, was sad to see the demise of Firetrap, as it appeared product was still selling well in stores. “It shows you can have a good volume business that is also a challenged business, which is indicative of the times,” he said.
One indie told Drapers that Firetrap deliveries for spring 12 had been “diabolical”; another young fashion retailer said it had cancelled its spring 12 order after stock over Christmas did not sell well.
Firetrap, which has built up good brand recognition, could add to the number of exclusive brands in Sports Direct or JD stores if bought by either. Joel Lever, owner of womenswear and kidswear indie Mon Amie in Manchester, said: “When they buy labels out they buy them to lift what they have in their own stores, because people are quite brand-conscious and if you buy a brand then you can control it.”
One young fashion brand managing director said: “Where did it all go wrong [for Firetrap]? The answer is this – the handwriting started to change. Some collections started to look like All Saints, another was very G-Star, another looked very Diesel.”
Both JD Sports and Sports Direct declined to comment.