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Claiborne Sells Prana Back to Founders

Thirteen down, three to go. Liz Claiborne Inc. has sold active brand Prana for $36.5 million, plus as much as $4 million more based on 2008 performance.

Thirteen down, three to go. Liz Claiborne Inc. has sold active brand Prana for $36.5 million, plus as much as $4 million more based on 2008 performance.

Prana Living LLC, a company formed by Prana’s management team, and Steelpoint Capital Partners, a private equity firm with a portfolio that includes Kidrobot and Tasti D-Lite, bought the $33 million eco-friendly brand for more than 11 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

At the expected closing in a few weeks, Claiborne is to receive $18.1 million in cash after settling a contingent earnout of $18.4 million owed to Prana’s founders, who reinvested the money in the buyout. All of the estimated 80 staffers on the Prana team will stay.

"We are very pleased with the multiple we received and the recognition of what the brand stands for and what it can do," said Roberta S. Karp, senior vice president of business development, legal and corporate affairs, at Claiborne.

Founded in 1993 by Beaver Theodosakis, Prana prides itself on its sustainable activewear and business model. Acquired in 2005, the Vista, Calif.-based brand was a victim of timing at Claiborne, which placed 16 of its brands on review July 11. The $4.99 billion Claiborne has promised to resolve the fates of the three remaining brands — Ellen Tracy, Kensie and Mac & Jac — by the end of the first quarter.

Ellen Tracy’s destiny should be decided by the middle of the month, a deadline Claiborne has set to complete the sale with the sole remaining potential buyer, according to sources close to the deal. If a deal can’t be reached in the next few weeks, Claiborne will keep the brand. Executives said the division will not be closed. The only remaining bidder is a consortium led by Windsong Brands and the Radius Group, which plans to license out the product, sources said. A tough due diligence has drawn out the process.

Even while on review, Prana, which wholesales in 1,400 doors, has been aggressively expanding. This fall, Prana opened its first retail door in Santa Clara, Calif. A flagship in Boulder, Colo., is to launch Feb. 13. The brand also started the premium outerwear line Scapegoat, which gives it more of a year-round business approach, according to Steelpoint.

Retail investment plans for 20 to 40 more stores have been on hold until Prana found a new home. They will probably be delayed at least another year while the company focuses on growing its wholesale distribution to a more mainstream audience (including Nordstrom, which picked up the brand in all doors for spring), internationally and online. Steelpoint predicted Prana can grow to be a $250 million company.

"Before Liz Claiborne, we were on our own, and we like to be light and fast and we know how to run a successful company," Theodosakis said. "The people at Liz have been amazing. When they were buying us, owning us for two years and selling us, they always focused on what was best for us….The original plan was for us to be part of a portfolio of many active brands we could share synergies with, but when direction of the company changed, we got caught in the crossfire. We were a very small fish.”

Based in San Diego, Steelpoint specializes in management buyouts for expansion-stage companies. It has its fingers in the worlds of apparel, with Kidrobot and accessories firm Bag Borrow or Steal, and eco-health-friendly products, with Naked Juice and Genesis Today.

"I’ve been a customer for over seven years, so I felt good about the quality, know it’s an authentic brand and like its position in a market we like investing in — a consumer company driving healthy living. We like that trend," said Scott Tierney, Steelpoint managing director. "What I admire about Prana and the management team is they were doing it before it became popular. When I heard it was being sold by Liz, I called Beaver — we hadn’t met before — we got together for lunch and hit it off."