Consortium Brand Partners details big plans for Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James

A 70% stake in Witherspoon's clothing line marks the inaugural acquisition for Consortium.

The announcement earlier in September that new consumer-focused private equity firm Consortium Brand Partners had acquired a majority stake in Hollywood multi-hyphenate Reese Witherspoon’s clothing line, Draper James, generated lots of buzz in both fashion and investor circles.

Draper James marks the inaugural acquisition for the New York-based buyout shop, which debuted in 2022. The apparel brand’s appeal goes beyond Witherspoon’s celebrity, Cory Baker, founder and managing partner of Consortium, told PE Hub.

Cory Baker, Consortium Brand Partners

“The beauty of Draper James is that Reese is not the face of the brand,” said Baker. “It doesn’t live and die on Reese herself.”

Founded in 2015 by Witherspoon and named after her grandparents, the brand raised $10 million in Series B funding in a round led by venture capital firm Forerunner Ventures. Early backers included Stone Canyon Industries and JH Partners.

Witherspoon co-founded Draper James with Seth Rodsky, a founding partner of Los Angeles-based growth equity firm Strand Equity and a former agent at CAA.

Draper James draws heavily on the Oscar-winning actress’s southern roots for inspiration. In addition to apparel, the company also sells home décor and accessories. Currently, the brand has three stores, which include the flagship location in Witherspoon’s hometown of Nashville, as well as a popular e-commerce site. The brand also has a presence in retail chain Kohl’s.

Deal talks began after Cathy Leonhardt, a partner and co-head of consumer retail at New York-based investment bank Solomon Partners, reached out to Consortium about Draper James.

”I told her it was on my list,” Baker told PE Hub. “Retail partners told me how this brand was loved. The more we learned about Draper James, the more we liked it. It checked a lot of boxes for us and had all the great storytelling we’re looking for. It’s a strong management team. Reese is even more impressive than you imagine.”

Witherspoon’s achievements include winning an Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards as well as co-founding production company Hello Sunshine, which was sold to Blackstone-backed media rollup Candle Media for $900 million in in 2021.

While Consortium now owns a 70 percent stake in Draper James, Witherspoon retains a minority stake and remain both a partner and board member. The senior leadership team consisting of CEO Erin Moennich, CFO and COO Sarah Foley and EVP of design Kathryn Sukey remains intact.

Consortium has big plans for Draper James: Topping the list are growth and expansion. As Baker explained, that includes extending the brand’s lifestyle categories and broadening its distribution to other retail outlets.

“This is a brand with designs, patterns and prints that are very unique,” said Baker. “It’s a brand that brings joy; there’s something that is very happy with this business. If you walk into the flagship store, you’ll see that. When Cathy [Leonhardt] called, it was like the universe was speaking.”

As for Baker, prior to co-founding Consortium, he launched and helped run the Neuberger Berman-backed brand management company Marquee Brands.

Before Marquee, Baker was a principal and founder of Julian Wolf, a brand management and business development agency. He began his career as a lawyer specializing in intellectual property, corporate law, licensing and anti-counterfeiting for clients in fashion, media and hospitality.

Consortium is also led by two colleagues of Baker’s from Marquee Brands, Michael DeVirgilio and Jonathan Greller.

Asked what propelled him and his partners to form Consortium, Baker said they wanted to address the dislocation and lack of alignment between brands and retailers. “We want to invest in and build brands alongside strategic partners and not be independent of them.”