French Sole Seeks Outside Investor

LONDON — French Sole, known for its ballet flats, is on the hunt for investment to fund expansion.

“We’re casting out the net to see who is interested,” said Jane Winkworth, who founded French Sole in 1989. “So far, there’s been massive interest. I want someone with a successful track record and a global track record, who is hands-on and able to help us grow.”

Retail expansion is high on the agenda for Winkworth. Over the next three years, she wants to open 10 additional stores in international cities, including Paris, Madrid, Tokyo and Dubai.

The company also is scouting for new locations in the U.S., where it operates under the name London Sole. (The New York-based company French Sole is not associated with the firm.)

“Once investors are on board, we will open stores in New York and Beverly Hills, Calif.,” Winkworth said.

The brand already counts six stores — four French Sole locations in London and two London Sole units in San Francisco and Santa Monica, Calif. — where shoes sell for $165 to $400.

On the wholesale side, the brand is stocked by more than 500 retailers, including Harvey Nicholas in London and Dubai; On Pedder in Asia; and Isetan in Japan. Robert Donaldson, head of mergers and acquisitions and private equity at Baker Tilly Corporate Finance LLP, which Winkworth appointed to handle the sale, said he was encouraged by recent fashion deals, including the ones for Smythson and Georgina Goodman.

“We expect investors to value the business in excess of 10 million pounds ($15.4 million at current exchange) and we’re looking to raise 3 million to 5 million pounds ($4.6 million to $7.7 million) in capital,” Donaldson said.

While she positions the company for sale, Winkworth also is working to stay current with today’s trends. She considers the ballet flat to be “done” as a fashion item, so French Sole is expanding with a wider selection of merchandise, including small leathergoods, boots, kitten heels, little wedges and children’s ballet flats.

In September, the company will roll out the 21st Collection, celebrating its 21 years in the business. It will feature 21 new styles, with heels that are no higher than an inch.

“For customers, ballerinas will be here today and tomorrow, but it doesn’t mean the brand can’t move into new areas. It just shouldn’t lose touch with its heritage,” said George Wallace, CEO of U.K.-based retail analyst MHE Retail. “It’s not a massive brand, so it’s got potential to grow.”

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