Matalan buys Lee Cooper brand for £45m

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The Independent Online

Lee Cooper, Europe's second largest jeans company, has been acquired by the discount retailer Matalan for £45m.

Matalan hopes to capitalise on the renaissance in jeans as a fashion item – with Levi Strauss pushing its "Twisted to Fit" look and fashion names such as Diesel doing well with high-profile jeans ranges. Matalan already owns Falmer jeans, which it bought from the receivers two years ago.

Lee Cooper was put up for sale earlier this year by the venture capital group Bridgepoint Capital. The business made operating profits of £400,000 on sales of £59m last year.

Matalan says Lee Cooper is the second biggest branded jeans company in Europe. The business employs 1,100 people and has operations in the UK, France and Belgium. It's manufacturing plant is in Tunisia.

Matalan is already the largest UK seller of Lee Cooper jeans. It hopes to use Lee Cooper's distribution facilities to push the Falmer brand in Europe. The increased scale will lead to lower costs and faster and more flexible product deliveries, the company said.

Lee Cooper's history goes back to 1908, when Morris Cooper started a company producing workwear and overalls. During the Second World War, the factory began producing uniforms for the British army, but as soon as the war ended the name became associated with fashion. The name of the business was changed to Lee Cooper, after the wife of Morris' son, Harold.

Bridgepoint acquired its stake in 1994 but denim drifted out of fashion as chinos and cargo pants became popular.

Matalan said the deal should be earnings enhancing in the first full year. John Hargreaves, its founder and chairman, said: "Lee Cooper complements our existing Falmer brand and will allow us to continue to provide our members [customers] with outstanding value for money. The acquisition provides good opportunities for growth, and we intend to continue to develop both the Lee Cooper and Falmer brands."

Matalan is without a chief executive, having parted company with Angus Monro in May. It issued a shock sales warning in January. But this month it reported an upbeat trading statement with like-for-like sales up by 9.7 per cent on last year's.

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