By Elizabeth Paton
The British online fast-fashion retailer Boohoo said Monday it would buy the Debenhams brand name and website for 55 million pounds, or $75 million, a few weeks after the 242-year-old department store chain began to wind down its operations after going into administration in April.
The deal is the latest reflection of the seismic reordering underway in the global retail hierarchy caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Strong businesses with agile supply chains and e-commerce operations are growing stronger, while weaker — often older — rivals with large brick-and-mortar footprints and more traditional models have started to fall away.
Asos, another online fast-fashion retailer, confirmed Monday that it was in exclusive talks with administrators for Philip Green’s retail group Arcadia to buy its fashion brands portfolio, which includes Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and HIIT. Arcadia filed for bankruptcy protection late last year.
A closing-down sale at 124 Debenhams stores began in December, as the administrators continued to seek offers for all or parts of the business. Now Boohoo, known for its $5 bikinis and tie-ins with reality TV stars, will buy Debenhams’ intellectual property rights in a cash deal — though none of its stores or stock will be included. The company took the same approach when acquiring several other British brands teetering on bankruptcy, including Oasis and Karen Millen.
It said that Debenhams was expected to relaunch on Boohoo’s web platform in early 2022.
“Our acquisition of the Debenhams brand is strategically significant as it represents a huge step which accelerates our ambition to be a leader, not just in fashion e-commerce, but in new categories including beauty, sport and home ware,” said Boohoo’s executive chairman, Mahmud Kamani. “Our ambition is to create the U.K.’s largest marketplace.”
Neither Asos nor Boohoo are looking to acquire stores, so Debenhams’ remaining 118 department stores and more than 400 store sites occupied by Arcadia brands are likely to close for good, putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk.
Boohoo, co-founded by Mr. Kamani in Manchester in 2006, came under public scrutiny last year after investigations into working conditions at garment factories in Leicester found many workers were being paid less than the minimum wage.
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