PARIS — Vivarte will sell the shoe brand André to an undisclosed buyer as part of a broad restructuring for the debt-distressed fashion group.
André, the founding label of the company started in 1886, has 135 stores and nearly 800 employees.
Vivarte had previously announced that the Kookaï, Chevignon and Pataugas apparel brands were up for sale, and that the group would close shoe emporiums under its La Halle aux Chaussures banner, combining them with apparel chain La Halle.
In a meeting with unions Tuesday, the clothing group added Naf Naf to the list of brands on the block and raised the number of planned store closings for La Halle aux Chaussures to 140 from 97. Union sources estimate this could mean as many as 800 layoffs.
Unions were also told to expect layoffs among the 240 staff of the group’s subsidiary for support functions, Vivarte Services.
Earlier in January, a spokesperson for Vivarte denied reports that André was for sale, but unions said employees have continued to brace themselves for the group to be all but dismantled under the leadership of its new chief executive officer Patrick Puy.
Vivarte, which is one of France’s largest clothing groups by sales, has struggled to pay back about 1.5 billion euros, or $1.62 billion at current exchange, to four investment funds that serve as both shareholders and lenders to the company.
Vivarte reported sales of 2.4 billion euros, or $2.54 billion at average exchange, for its fiscal year 2015, representing an estimated 11 percent drop versus the same prior-year period. The company, which employs around 17,000 people, did not immediately respond to a request for more recent figures.
Vivarte is renegotiating its debts to the shareholding investment funds, on which it pays interest of 11 percent annually. With an unemployment rate of 10.5 percent and French presidential elections coming up in late April, layoffs at the group risk turning into a hot-button political issue.
Marine Le Pen’s National Front party seized on the occasion to urge voters to “dare to try economic patriotism and intelligent protectionism.”
“Unless we want the tragedy being lived by Vivarte’s staff, and so many workers before them, to only keep reproducing itself, there is a desperate need to change the rules of the game,” the party said in a statement Monday.