Mike Ashley has bought a 12.5% stake in the luxury British handbag company Mulberry as he seeks to push his retail empire upmarket.
Ashley’s Fraser Group announced on Monday that it had bought the stake as a part of a “key strategic priority” to reposition his fashion group towards “premium third-party brands”.
Ashley, 55, has been expanding his retail empire with a string of acquisitions of struggling retailers, including the department store chain House of Fraser for £90m, Jack Wills, Evans Cycles, Sofa.com and Game Digital.
The expansion led Ashley to rename the company, ditching the Sports Direct International name for Frasers Group in December. The unusual name change decision followed stinging criticism from politicians and investors over “Victorian workhouse-like” conditions at Sport Direct’s warehouses exposed in a Guardian investigation.
Mulberry is by far the most upmarket brand to be added to Ashley’s stable, which also includes Flannels, Lillywhites, Donnay, Slazenger, Kangol, Karrimor and Lonsdale.
Mulberry bags can easily exceed £1,000. A small Iris tartan check handbag described as being designed to “shine as an everyday favourite” costs £1,350.
In a statement, Frasers, which is 65%-owned by Ashley, said: “A key strategic priority for Frasers Group is the elevation of our retail proposition and building stronger relationships with premium third-party brands. Frasers Group looks forward to working more closely with Mulberry for the benefit of shareholders of both companies.”
Frasers and Mulberry declined to state the price of the stake sale.