Former stall-holder bags £45m

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A former Camden market stallholder yesterday sold the leather handbag business she started more than 25 years ago to a private equity group in a £45m deal.

Lowell Harder, an Australian-born architect, has handed majority control of Radley to Phoenix Equity Partners, the venture capital firm that helped to turn Jimmy Choo into a global luxury shoe brand.

She was among 10 directors to land a multi-million pound windfall from selling the company she has built up into the UK's leading handbag brand. Ms Harder will hand management control over to Roger Best, who was ousted as executive chairman of John David Sports two years ago, although she will remain with the group as creative director. She has cashed in some of her stake but remains a significant shareholder.

Mr Best said he hoped to take the brand overseas, starting with Japan. "It is a very high-growth brand with a lot more potential," he added. Mr Best is also a non-executive at JJB Sports.

Ms Harder joined Radley - formerly known as Tula Group - in 1991, bringing with her the Hidesign line of handbags. The group also owns the Tula, T2 and Mebo lines. Last year, the company reported pre-tax profits of £4m, almost double the previous year's total, on sales of £32.3m, up from £22.8m. Its bags are stocked in more than 500 outlets, including John Lewis and Debenhams. In 2005 it opened a flagship store on London's Kings Road.