Camuto Group on the Block?

Camuto Group could be in play.

According to multiple sources, including investment bankers and analysts, acquisition talk surrounding the private footwear firm — founded in 2002 by industry veteran Vince Camuto — has been swirling for a couple of weeks. These sources also said Hong Kong-based retail conglomerate Li & Fung Ltd. could be one company looking to snap up Camuto Group as part of its current growth spurt.

The timing of a potential deal could not be learned, however, and sources indicated a transaction may not be imminent.  Some also believe Camuto might only be looking to sell a minority stake.

Li & Fung has been active in the acquisitions arena of late. Last year, the firm acquired U.K.-based footwear maker Shubiz, gloves producer JMI and Kids Headquarters. The sourcing powerhouse also owns New York-based Van Zeeland Inc., which is expanding its B. Makowsky and Kathy Van Zeeland brands into footwear.

Li & Fung’s financial strength is impressive, and it has stated an interest in pursuing more acquisitions. The firm has stockpiled $1 billion in cash for acquisitions. During its first-half 2009 report, Li & Fung said profits attributable to shareholders rose 13 percent to 1.4 billion Hong Kong dollars, or $180.6 million at average exchange. Sales dipped 2 percent to 46.29 billion Hong Kong dollars, or $5.97 billion.

Li & Fung executives were not available by press time. Camuto Group execs declined to comment last week, but in a recent interview, Camuto and company president Bob Galvin didn’t rule out the possibility of a strategic partnership when asked if they would ever consider selling the company.

“The future is the future,” said Camuto. “We’re thinking about growth.”

Indeed, the firm is forging ahead with a number of major initiatives this year. One of the biggest priorities is fueling growth at Camuto’s eponymous brand, which the exec believes can eventually be $1 billion at retail.

Camuto is seeking to take the label, which consists of footwear and handbags, into several new categories this year. “It’s our biggest opportunity,” he said.

The company also has opened a handful of Vince Camuto-branded stores overseas and is continuing to look for new opportunities, including a New York location. Meanwhile, the firm continues to rack up licensing deals for its Jessica Simpson brand, which Camuto predicted could hit $1 billion in the near term.

Just last week, the company said it inked a deal with Jones Apparel Group Inc. for a full jeanswear collection under the Jessica Simpson name. The line, which will launch at retail in July, will consist of denim jeans, knit tops, jackets and skirts.

“We’re very bullish about this year,” Camuto said.

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