LOS ANGELES — Johnny Was is testing the water — in more ways than one.
As the upscale Los Angeles brand’s management team has kept their heads down on an aggressive growth strategy over the past few years that includes its most recent expansion into swim, sources said Endeavour Capital is now thinking of an exit and exploring a possible sale of the brand.
Citibank is said to be managing the process.
Spokespeople for Johnny Was and Citibank declined comment Friday.
The brand, which was started by Eli Levite and named after the Bob Marley song of the same name, received an investment in 2015 from Endeavour Capital that saw it begin to chart the course for an aggressive growth strategy under Rob Trauber. The goal: take the company from a family-run operation to a large-scale enterprise.
Trauber came to the brand — known for its bohemian aesthetic and embroidered craftsmanship — from Juicy Couture, Cole Haan and Coach Inc., with the ambitious goal of transforming the business into the next big American luxury company.
“We have a jewel here that we’re going to build and you hear a lot of buzzwords out there,” Trauber told WWD nearly a year ago. “You have Everlane and Warby Parker, and what’s next? Is it the subscription model like Stitch Fix, which just went public? But in the end, you have these great, little brands like us who resonate, who are relevant, who people love to shop. It’s just about being relevant and creating an experience that customers enjoy.”
The business currently has sales in excess of $100 million and a spokeswoman said it’s growing in the high double-digits each year. Trauber said at the time of last year’s interview, the business had been notching a profit every year since its founding in 1987.
The line is carried in some 1,400 accounts, including retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Blooomingdale’s.
On Friday, the company unveiled its latest category expansion into swimwear for resort 2019. The 25-piece swim collection will launch at about 150 specialty retailers and Neiman Marcus as the exclusive luxury major partner, with pricing in the range of $88 to $298.
Swim could eventually account for about 5 percent of the overall business, according to Meg Doepke, vice president of wholesale sales and merchandising.
On the store front, the business has opened 11 locations this year, with another 15 planned for 2019 that will take Johnny Was into new markets, such as Hawaii, Denver and Chicago.
“I always say, ‘OK, the next point’s $200 million and then it’s $500 million.’ Juicy [Couture] was a $500 million brand and we saw what was developed there and they lost their way, obviously, because their customer sort of changed and they didn’t change with their customer,” Trauber said. “We’re very conscious of some of those learnings, too. I feel we’re well-positioned. Four years ago, I didn’t know what Johnny Was was. It’s fascinating.”