Cantillon: Why was plug pulled on A-Wear . . . again?
In the past six years, the company has been through three receiverships, one failed examinership and four changes of ownership
A-wear’s store on Dublin’s Grafton Street. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Like an unwanted toy, A-Wear is about to be discarded yet again. The fashion chain, which was placed into receivership on Thursday, has been through the ringer in recent times.
In the past six years, A-Wear has been through three receiverships, one failed examinership and four changes of ownership. If a buyer can be found from the latest receivership process, it will be A-Wear’s fifth new owner.
A-Wear, which has 31 Irish stores and nine UK concessions, appears to be the most perplexing riddle of Irish retailing. Nobody seems able to crack it.
Brown Thomas sold it in 2007 for €70 million in a deal backed by Alchemy Partners, then run by Jon Moulton. Alchemy is a turnaround specialist, but in 2011 it threw in the towel on A-Wear, which has been mercilessly squeezed by its rivals in the youth fashion segment.
It was bought out of receivership by Hilco, another UK-based turnaround outfit. Less than five months later, Hilco, too, admitted defeat.
Next, it was bought by the the Lebanese-Canadian Jesta group, linked to the Aintabi family. Jesta lasted 12 months with them, before they flipped it on to Jack Stein, a Canadian who was on A-Wear’s board under the Aintabis.
Stein put it into examinership last month, and presented the High Court with the outline of a grand plan to restore its fortunes by selling cheap clothes wholesale to retailers across Europe.
The business was then placed into receivership this week by Chelsey Investments, a company linked to the Aintabis – who still sit on the board – that is owed more than €6 million.
What happened that resulted in the plug being pulled on A-Wear’s rescue plan less than halfway through its examinership? Stein has gone to ground – he apparently cannot be contacted by his press spokesman – and A-Wear’s future looks decidedly bleak.
Whatever happens, its blameless staff and trade creditors are the ones likely to come off worse in yet another messy retail insolvency.
Plus ça change?