Private equity fund Green Harbor has bought a majority stake in JWU, the parent company of New York-based designer brand Jason Wu.
Green Harbor announced the news on its WeChat account, but the sum paid by the firm and other details of the acquisition were not disclosed.
"We are very pleased to announce our new partnership with Green Harbor," Eddie Volchko, chief executive of Jason Wu, tells BoF. "China is a critically important market for luxury brands and is an integral part of our growth plans. Green Harbor’s knowledge and expertise in the Chinese market will be a significant resource to us as we continue to build Jason Wu’s presence in China."
Jason Wu launched his ready-to-wear collection in 2007, and joined Hugo Boss as its artistic director for women’s in 2013. (That partnership ended in 2018.) Green Harbor, which has offices in Hong Kong and Beijing, invests across the retail, healthcare, education and financial services sectors. The acquisition marks the first time the firm has invested in an American brand, and the first time it has invested in an apparel brand.
Green Harbor is buying its stake from American investment firm InterLuxe, which has owned the label since 2014 and is exiting the company. Unlike traditional private equity firms, Interluxe, which also own stakes in Mackage and ALC, offers operational support to its brands.
Last year, the Jason Wu inked a deal with Chinese firm Zhejiang Semir Garment Co., which bought an 11 percent stake in the brand for $5 million according to S&P Capital IQ. More recently, Interluxe president Cliff Moskowitz stated that the company was speaking to Asian partners regarding potential partnerships.
In recent years, small-to-mid-sized American fashion brands like Jason Wu have struggled to compete commercially against labels owned by the big European groups, which benefit from shared resources and knowhow. While WWD has reported that Derek Lam, currently backed by private equity firm Sandbridge Capital, is also looking for a buyer, Proenza Schouler founders Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez bought out private equity firm Castanea Partners in November 2018 with the support of private investors.
With the Jason Wu acquisition, Green Harbor is joining the crowded ranks of Chinese investors backing global fashion businesses. Looking to tap into China’s appetite for luxury, the likes of Icicle Fashion Group, Fosun, First Heritage Brands, Gansu Gangtai Holding and Shandong Ruyi have backed businesses including Carven, Lanvin, Sonia Rykiel, Buccellati and SMCP respectively in recent years with varied results. On Tuesday, First Heritage brands-backed Sonia Rykiel filed for receivership, the equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, in France as it searches for a new investor.
In particular, conglomerates Fosun and Shandong Ruyi have expanded their portfolios rapidly, looking to challenge Western behemoths such as LVMH and Kering. However, expanding a foreign brands’ presence in the world’s largest luxury market can also lead to disappointing results, as First Heritage Brands and Gansu’s investments have demonstrated.
In this case, the deal could boost Jason Wu’s presence in China, which is on track to surpass the US as the largest fashion market in 2019, according to BoF and McKinsey & Company's The State of Fashion report. "It must be said that this cross-border acquisition is fully in line with Green Harbor's investment ecosystem," the firm said in its WeChat post.
"As Jason Wu further expands its business in the Chinese market, our firm's experience will help the brand reshape its management team, strengthen marketing and sales, and provide resources across media, real estate and finance to help the label develop in China and obtain commercial success."
Additional reporting by Lauren Sherman, Aijing Wang and Nino Tang.