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Coronavirus Forces Laura Ashley Into Insolvency

Already struggling with cash flow and troubles on the high street, Laura Ashley has declared insolvency, blaming the coronavirus for its failure.

On Tuesday, the company said that despite a 24% year-on-year uptick in sales in the seven weeks to March 13, the spread of COVID-19 has changed everything.

“It has had an immediate and significant impact on trading, and ongoing developments indicate that this will be a sustained national situation,” the company said in a statement to the London Stock Exchange.

It said that directors had been in advanced discussions for the provision of third-party debt funding, but based on revised cash flow forecasts and the increased uncertainty facing the group, Laura Ashley expects that it will not be in a position to draw down additional funds from third-party lenders in a timely manner sufficient to support working capital requirements.

Parent company MUI Asia Limited, which is owned by Malaysian Chinese businessman Khoo Kay Peng, has confirmed it is unable to provide financial support in the required time frame.

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The company directors and affiliates said that all available alternative options have been explored, so in order to protect creditors, it has called in administrators Robert Lewis and Zelf Hussain and has suspended trading on the London Stock Exchange.

The statement said that Laura Ashley is not certain whether there would be any surplus assets available to shareholders of the company. Founded by Laura and David Ashley, the retail brand rose to great heights in the 1980s, with a generation of affluent, well-educated “Sloane Rangers” and the then-Lady Diana Spencer wearing its quintessentially English frills, flower prints and fresh floral fragrances.

But as ’90s minimalism, grunge and urban chic took over, it fell out of fashion and never recovered. Over the years, the business focused on home furnishings and a small amount of apparel and accessories, and it had long struggled under MUI.

Last month, Laura Ashley named Katharine Poulter, the company’s chief operating officer, to the role of executive director and chief executive officer. A retail veteran, she had been spearheading a strategic review of the business. She succeeded Kwan Cheong Ng, who retired as CEO. Ng was to become a nonexecutive director of the board as of April 30.

This story was reported by WWD and originally appeared on WWD.com.

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