Jack Wills' AW16 collection

LONDON — Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct has purchased the troubled Jack Wills clothing brand for 12.8 million pounds in cash from Bluegem Capital Partners.

Sports Direct confirmed late Monday that it had purchased the business and assets of the clothing retailer from Jack Wills Ltd., which had been placed into administration, a form of bankruptcy protection, earlier in the day.

The purchase includes about 100 Jack Wills stores in the U.K. and Republic of Ireland and inventory and the international Jack Wills brand.

Sports Direct said for the year ended Jan. 28, 2018, Jack Wills had gross assets of 99 million pounds and made an operating loss, before exceptional items, of 14.2 million pounds and a net profit after exceptional items of 19.2 million pounds.

Private equity company Bluegem had purchased Jack Wills in 2016, but failed to turn the once-popular retailer around in a difficult climate for high street retail.

As reported last month, Bluegem had been shopping around the ailing Jack Wills, with retail tycoon Philip Day, Crew Clothing and Hilco said to be interested in buying the chain. In the end it was Ashley’s Sports Direct, which specializes in snapping up distressed retailers such as House of Fraser, that prevailed.

Jack Wills’ founder Peter Williams left the company a year ago after a disagreement with the owners and Suzanne Harlow, formerly of Debenhams, took over as chief executive officer the following month.

The brand has been a victim of hard times on the British high street and had also watched its core consumers shift their spending to streetwear and fast fashion brands such as Zara and H&M.

When Bluegem acquired its stake in Jack Wills in 2016, it teamed with Williams, then ceo, to form an investment vehicle known as Union Lifestyle Ltd., which owned 100 percent of Jack Wills Group.

At the time, the partners said “significant” new capital had been invested to facilitate growth of the Jack Wills brand in the U.K. and internationally. Inflexion, the long-term investor in Jack Wills, officially exited the company when Bluegem took over.

The brand was established in Salcombe, Devon in 1999 and quickly became known for British heritage-inspired classics with a contemporary twist.

Soon after its launch, the retailer began rolling out in college towns such as Oxford, Cambridge, Durham and St Andrews. It evolved into an international brand with more than 80 stores across the globe, including the U.K., U.S., Asia and the Middle East.

Jack Wills opened up lavish units in city centers, college towns and resorts and hired young brand ambassadors to organize beach events, barbecues and concerts and to preach the gospel of preppy, collegiate fun. The brand also fell foul of U.K. regulators, who said the ad campaigns and catalogue images were too racy and told the brand to pull them down.

The brand offered men’s and women’s wear including tailored clothing, hoodies, sweatpants, knitwear, intimates and accessories.

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