The future of the Worth Collection, a direct-to-consumer women’s apparel business, appears to be questionable.
The Worth Collection site, which also showcased the more affordable W by Worth contemporary sportswear label, was no longer operating Friday afternoon.
In 2016, an affiliate of New Water Capital, L.P. (New Water) acquired The Worth Collection, that operates “Worth New York” and the contemporary label “W by Worth.” Terms of the deal were not disclosed at that time. Someone familiar with the agreement said that Worth had “zero debt” at that time. New Water spent $40 million and took on $20 million in debt to do so, according to an industry source said. Plans to flip The Worth Collection in two to three years did not pan out, according to an industry source.
In an interview Thursday, New Water Capital’s manager Brian McGee presented three possible scenarios. “There are three outcomes — one, the business sells to someone…two, the assets sell…There are obviously other competitors in this space. There is a nice brand here and a customer list [referring to Worth.] Part three is it continues to wind down and just winds down at some level. Those three things are on the table.”
An asking price had not been set other than to maximize stakeholders’ investment “and to find a good home for the brand,” according to McGee. “Everyone’s ears are wide open. This field of sellers, as well as a brand that has been around for a long time, could be valuable to a buyer. Given the retail world we’re living in, despite the headwinds the one-to-one selling is unique and one of the attractive elements of the business. We do have some amazing stylists that sell a lot of product. If I were an apparel wholesaler, I might find that really attractive given the state of retail. A lot of the retail channel is choking as noted.”
As of Friday, the company had about 600 stylists — less than half of what it had in its heyday. At its prime a few years ago, the company was said to generate $70 million in annual volume resulting in $10 million in profitability. The base of stylists was said to be between 1,200 and 1,400 people between the two labels Worth New York and W by Worth. Kelly Collins, the current president of Worth, could not be reached Friday.
McGee and a New Water Capital spokeswoman did not respond Friday to a request for comment.
Founded in 1991 by Caroline Davis, Richard Kaplan and Jay Rosenberg, the Worth Collection was powered by its stylist network, by-appointment showrooms, online sales and retail outlets.The Worth Collection cycled through a few chief executive officers in the past few years, including Fran Della Badia, who joined Worth as ceo in June 2017. Last year, Della Badia was named president of AM Retail Group Inc., the retail subsidiary of G-III Apparel Group Inc., that operates stores and web sites for its DKNY, Wilsons Leather, G.H. Bass and Karl Lagerfeld Paris brands, and stores for the Calvin Klein Performance brand.
On Jan. 6, the company notified top-performing stylists that it was in a wind-down, according to a source. Some were believed to have found out about the “winding down” in a call with leadership, whereas others were informed during preview presentations, or notified in writing. Stylists were still being encouraged to sell the spring collection this week, as an added incentive there were said to be higher commission rates for stylists and discounted prices for consumers.
During Thursday’s interview, McGee, said, “There are discussions with folks absolutely. There are definitely active negotiations ongoing. Quite frankly, with all types — investors, apparel businesses that were interested in their D-to-C space. We’ve spoken to individual investors who know and love the brand. I spoke with one last week, who has been a customer for a long time. Some of the stylists actually have connections they have been pursuing to see if they could bear fruit on a strategic alternative basis.”
McGee said he couldn’t say for certain to what extent the summer collection has been manufactured, other than to say it has been designed. He insisted it had not been determined that spring would be the final season. McGee said, “At this moment, it’s not definitive by any stretch. I personally believe there is a lot of value in the brand, and in [its] IP and so on. The field is a pretty incredible group of ladies and a couple of guys.”
Typically working with a business model that calls for a year or more for inventory, that lead time posed its own challenges in this era of fast fashion. With production in the U.S. and overseas, McGee said the company was equipped to keep manufacturing should a deal be finalized.