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Legendary Kiwi brand up for sale

One of New Zealand's most famous and oldest brands is looking for a new owner after a turbulent time in overseas hands.

Sportswear maker Canterbury of New Zealand is seeking a new investor, after its Bahrain-based owners decided to place its European business into administration.

The move has left several European sports teams looking for new gear, and the Scottish Rugby Union was yesterday forced to cancel a planned launch of its national team's kit for the new season.

A Scottish newspaper reported that the Scotland shirt was among Canterbury's best sellers.

This year, the future of Canterbury's contract with the Springboks was thrown into doubt after its South African licensee failed. A new supplier was found.

Sports teams in Australia and New Zealand have been told the latest move will not affect Canterbury's local operations, but the company's London-based administrators say the entire group, including divisions in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa, the Middle East and the United States, is up for sale.

Accounts filed with the Companies Office show Canterbury has been losing money for several years.

The most recent accounts available, for 2007, show it lost $5.5 million - an improvement on the $18.2 million loss the previous year.

The New Zealand operations made a small profit, but all other subsidiaries lost a hefty amount of money.

Canterbury is best known for its rugby jerseys, but in its heyday in the 1960s it produced a wide range of clothing made in New Zealand, from suits to underwear.

It supplied the All Blacks' jerseys for 75 years, but lost that contract to adidas in 1999.

Its parent company, LWR, was sold to American-based New Zealander David Teece in the late 90s.

In 2001 Mr Teece sold LWR to a Christchurch couple, but kept the Canterbury business for himself and his partners.

Several industry figures said yesterday they believed Mr Teece had tried hard to build up the business, but it had expanded into too many new areas, including cricket, golf, football and casualwear.

Last year it opened its first retail outlet in Europe, and more shops were planned for Europe and New York.

Although Mr Teece is still a part-owner of Canterbury, the company is controlled by a Bahrain private equity fund, owned by a Kuwaiti bank, Kuwait Finance House (KFH).

KFH-Bahrain has several other investments in New Zealand, including stake in Woosh Wireless and the Radius Health Group.

Canterbury's Australasian chief executive, Scott Chapman, said he had briefed the company's customers - including the Warriors and the Australian Rugby Union - and all had been "very, very positive and supportive, which is nice ... . at this difficult time".

Canterbury has four stores in New Zealand, and employs about 60 non-retail staff on both sides of the Tasman.

It would be business as usual for these workers, Mr Chapman said.

It was possible there might be local interest in buying back the company.

"This brand is 105 years old and it's been through many, many shareholders," he said.

"It's been through two world wars. When it lost the All Blacks the world was going to cave in, and it's still a very strong brand.

"I'm sure somebody will jump at the opportunity."

British sports fans have made their anger about the decision known.

On one fan site, footballshirtculture.com, several expressed their disappointment.

"I feel so sorry for the clubs who have Canterbury as their kit supplier because the kits are just so nicely done," was a typical comment.

The European division has terminated all its sponsorship contracts and laid off 72 of its 86 staff.

Several high-profile rugby union and league teams in Europe had deals with Canterbury.

They included the Scottish national team, the London Wasps and Cardiff.

The company branched out into soccer clothing two years ago.

* This article i s from The New Zealand Herald