Luke Johnson goes East and buys stake in bohemian chain

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The Independent Online

Luke Johnson, the chairman of Channel 4, is to turn his hand to fashion retailing after taking a 50 per cent stake in the boho womenswear chain East, which is owned by four friends who set it up in 1994.

The restaurant entrepreneur, who made his fortune at PizzaExpress, has agreed to take on the non-executive chairmanship of East. He is heading a group of investors who are ploughing millions of pounds into the chain, which has struggled to expand its 60-strong store estate for lack of cash.

Mr Johnson is making the investment through his private equity group Risk Capital Partners. He declined to reveal the identity of East's other new backers, whom he described as "associates". He made no comment about potential plans to float the business, saying only that the consortium was investing a "significant amount of money" because it saw potential for the brand.

For seven months last year East was run by Yasmin Yusuf, the former creative director of Marks & Spencer. But she quit last autumn out of frustration that the group did not have the funds to grow as quickly as she had envisaged. Yesterday she said: "It's a good company and I wish them well."

Mr Johnson's arrival marks the first time that the founders of East have relinquished control of the business they started on London's Fulham Road in 1994. With Mr Johnson as East's figurehead, Clive Pettigrew, a former partner of Peter Simon, the man behind Monsoon, will concentrate on running the retailer known for its ethnic fashions aimed at women in their late 30s and 40s.

Mr Pettigrew, who started East with two former Monsoon employees, Penny Oliver and Jonathan Keating, said he hoped the dual injection of cash and financial know-how would help transform it into a strong high street brand. East made £2.6m of profits before tax on sales of £35.6m in the year to March 2005, its accounts show. It also owns a jewellery and fashion accessory brand, Mint, in which Mr Johnson has also invested.

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