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There was plenty of wheeling and dealing in 2020, but so much of it was in what is politely called the “distressed” space with investors swooping in to grab the fallen out of bankruptcy or agreeing to swap debt for equity.

Examples run from Neiman Marcus to J. Crew to J.C. Penney.

But another kind of dealmaking with fresher brands and better premiums was also percolating as the year wound down. 

Leading the charge was Supreme, the buzzy and ultra-exclusive streetwear brand that VF Corp. agreed to buy in a $2.1 billion deal

The acquisition was a sign not only that Supreme was moving beyond its private equity stage, but that big players with the money to spend were starting to feel comfortable enough about the market — and that it would eventually recover — to make their move. 

Not many companies are quite as strong as VF, which owns The North Face, Vans and Timberland and has $2.7 billion of cash and short-term investments on hand, but other strategics could do a little dealmaking as they look to put to work cash raised during the dark days of the shutdown.

Even companies that aren’t known as prolific dealmakers, such as Levi Strauss & Co., are keeping an eye open for potential targets. 

There are also any number of financial players — from private equity firms to hedge funds to the investment offices of wealthy families — looking to buy. 

Some have been set up to take advantage of the market. 

A flurry of blank check companies came to market last year, raising money with the promise of doing a deal or returning the cash to investors in a set time frame. 

That crowd includes Matt Rubel’s Empower, which raised $250 million to hunt for deals in the consumer space, and Ken Suslow’s Sandbridge Acquisition Corp., which gathered a $200 million kitty.

All together, that’s a lot of would-be buyers with a lot of money to spend. Combined with companies that start to need more money themselves or have backers who want to move on, the deal market could really start to hop this year.

More from WWD:

Wave of Bankruptcies Sweeps Through Retail

LVMH vs. Tiffany — Off Again, On Again Dealmaking

The CEO-CFO Buddy Movie Shaping Fashion Today

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