Nicole Miller has received a majority investment from Gordon Brothers, the Boston-based global advisory and investment firm, effective Feb. 1.
Miller, who previously owned the women’s lifestyle brand, will continue to own a stake. Both parties declined to disclose the specific size of the investment.
The business generates around $250 million in retail sales, manufactures women’s ready-to-wear and has licensees in such categories as handbags, fashion jewelry, home furnishings, fragrance and footwear.
“We think we could double the business in the next three to five years,” said Tobias Nanda, president, Brands at Gordon Brothers.
As reported, Gordon Brothers first became involved in Miller’s business last April when it provided a secured credit facility, which was backed by Miller’s intellectual property and was used to fund strategic growth initiatives. At the time, Gordon Brothers didn’t buy a stake in Nicole Miller, but loaned the company money and helped them with strategic decisions.
“We are excited to continue the incredible momentum Nicole Miller and her team have built and grow with current and new partners. We see tremendous opportunity in product extensions and territory expansion,” said Nanda on Tuesday. “The brand is poised for growth given its unique position in the market, and as Nicole’s new partner, we will use our experience to build upon the legacy she has created.”
“Having successfully developed the Nicole Miller brand over the last nearly 40 years, I am thrilled for its next chapter with Gordon Brothers,” said Nicole Miller. “The firm has always understood the value of our business and long-term objectives and will continue to grow and expand the company both in the U.S. and around the world.”
Miller will continue as chief creative officer and will be a member of the board. Zina Zegans, a key member of the team, will continue as executive vice president and chief brand officer at Nicole Miller. Carolyn D’Angelo, managing director, brands and president of Laura Ashley Global at Gordon Brothers, will also be involved.
In an interview Tuesday with Miller and Nanda, the two executives said they believe there are significant opportunities for Miller’s brand both overseas and through expansion of their licensed businesses.
Asked if she had been aggressively seeking a new investor, Miller said, “Not really. We have a great relationship with Gordon Brothers, and it’s been ongoing, and I was speaking with them, and they stop by all the time, and it just seemed a logical way to continue.”
“They came on pretty much to be licensing partners because they have so many connections internationally and globally and this is where we didn’t have the connections or the strength. They’ll enable us to expand into a bigger global reach for the company,” explained Miller. She said currently the international business is very small, but they do distribute in Canada and South America. Most of their licensees are in the U.S.
According to Nanda, the Brands division of Gordon Brothers, invests in companies that use this licensing model, and one of their largest portfolio companies is Laura Ashley in the U.K. and it’s very similar. “We have a global network of licensees who have different categories depending on the geography,” he said.
Nanda said there were many reasons why he was attracted to Miller’s brand. “It’s a brand that I’ve been familiar with for over a decade, and we’ve been following as a firm and admiring from afar. We had the opportunity to lend to the company last year and that deepened the relationship. We’ve been very involved with Nicole and Zina throughout the year, and it got to a point where Nicole was looking for a partner and it just made sense,” he said.
He said if you look at the licensing business where it stands now, it’s very strong. “We also see the ability to bring some of our capabilities to the table. With Laura Ashley, we have a very strong global platform and relationships, that we’re going to leverage with the brand, and then there’s also relationships with other Gordon Brothers’ brands that we think will be additive,” he said.
“The main appeal is being able to work with Nicole going forward,” said Nanda. “Also to build upon the heritage. The brand is turning 40 this year, and it’s rare to be able to work with a brand that not only has the heritage but is still relevant today,” he said.
Asked if he plans to switch some of Miller’s licenses to those used by Laura Ashley, Nanda said there is already some overlap between Ashley’s and Miller’s licensees. “Nicole’s licensees are very strong and we’re excited to partner with them going forward,” he said.
Nanda said the plan is “business as usual.” Zegans will be running things, and Miller will be running the creative side and sitting on the board. “Day to day will be very similar with an additional person at the table, namely Gordon Brothers, helping to drive growth,” said Nanda.
Nanda called this is the furthest thing from a turnaround situation. In Gordon Brothers’ Brands division, they are focused on healthy companies. “With Laura Ashley, it’s a growth story, so the company is growing phenomenally. The same thing obviously with Nicole Miller. This is a growth investment in all senses,” he said.
Asked if there are any categories that Miller isn’t in yet that she’d like to get involved in, the designer said, “I think there’s a lot of room for international expansion, especially in the home category. We are still maintaining our ready-to-wear here and we’re still working on the core collection as usual. I think there are some categories that we might want to sharpen up, but for the most part, the ones we have are pretty strong,” said Miller. She said the company has girl’s clothing, but doesn’t have boys’ wear. In footwear, they don’t have shoes for every age group. “There are opportunities there. Some of these licensees can be expanded,” she said.
As far as e-commerce, Miller said they’d like to expand that. “That’s been doing very well. We certainly could expand and add some of our licensee products onto it.”
Miller plans a digital show during New York Fashion Week.
In 2005, Nicole Miller forged a successful deal with JC Penney for Nicole by Nicole Miller, which ran for 10 years. That deal encompassed clothing, handbags, footwear, fashion jewelry and other accessories.
Miller’s original business partner, Bud Konheim, died in 2019.
Discussing how the company has weathered the pandemic, Miller said that 2020 was terrible, but everything came back in 2021. “Twenty-twenty-one was a very good year,” she said.
“One of the attractions we saw was just how healthy the business has been and bounced back, and for us, that leads to the strength of the brand,” said Nanda. “A good brand doesn’t diminish that much in hard times and is able to endure, and we really saw that in Nicole Miller.”
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