Clearlake Capital nears Ashley Stewart sale: sources

Ashley Stewart Inc, the plus-size women’s clothing retailer owned by Clearlake Capital, is close to being sold, three sources familiar with the situation said.

Robert W. Baird is advising on the auction, the sources said. One source, a banker, said Ashley Stewart was in exclusivity with an unnamed party. A second source, a GP, said the party buying Ashley Stewart was a family office. Another source said the deal was valued at $150 million.

A May 16 Federal Trade Commission filing said Stichting Administratiekantoor Westend of the Netherlands was the buyer. This Dutch firm, parent of Artal Group SA, also owns 46 percent of Weight Watchers International Inc’s stock, according to a May SEC filing.

The Wall Street Journal, which previously reported Clearlake gaining FTC approval to sell Ashley Stewart, said early antitrust clearance doesn’t necessarily indicate a deal has closed or will close.

Ashley Stewart, based in Secaucus, New Jersey, sells women’s clothing, like skirts, shorts and swimsuits, in plus sizes. The company has 89 stores spread across the United States, according to the Ashley Stewart website.

The sale comes two years since Ashley Stewart filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, according to press reports. Clearlake acquired the retailer out of Chapter 11 in April 2014. The deal was valued at $18 million to $23 million, the WSJ reported at the time.

Two years since its bankruptcy, Ashley Stewart is debt-free, according to a March story from The Record. Ashley Stewart posted 2015 sales growth of 30 percent and earnings of $20 million, the story said.

James Rhee, who joined Ashley Stewart as executive chairman and president in 2013, is crediting with leading a revival at Ashley Stewart, press reports said. Rhee is a former principal with Gordon Brothers Group and ex-senior investment professional with JW Childs Associates LP, his LinkedIn profile said.

It’s unclear which fund Clearlake used to invest in Ashley Stewart. The Los Angeles PE firm closed its fourth private equity fund in September 2015 at $1.38 billion. Clearlake’s prior fund raised more than $785 million in 2012.

Fund IV, a very young pool, is producing a 0.0 percent net IRR and 1x investment multiple as of Sept. 30, according to performance data from California Public Employees’ Retirement System. Fund III is generating a 28.2 percent net IRR and 1.4x investment multiple, CalPERS said.

Executives for Baird declined comment. Ashley Stewart, Clearlake and Stichting Administratiekantoor Westend could not be reached for comment.

Action Item: Contact Ashley Stewart: +1 844-327-4539.

Photo courtesy of Ashley Stewart