M&S takes a stake in fashionista favourite: Resurgent High St chain buys into online brand Nobody’s Child
Nobody’s Child is popular among late 20s and early 30-year-olds and stands out for its midi dresses (pictured)
Marks & Spencer has bought a 25 per cent stake in trendy womenswear brand Nobody’s Child as moves to revive its clothing arm gather pace. Nobody’s Child is one of more than 30 brands M&S has partnered with to spruce up its online offering. Others include Ghost, Fat Face and White Stuff. In January it bought upmarket fashion brand Jaeger out of administration for around £5million, allowing it to sell Jaeger-branded clothes online.
But its investment in Nobody’s Child is the first time it has taken a stake in another clothing retailer and signals a deepening of its brand partnership strategy. Shore Capital retail analyst Clive Black said more could follow. He said: ‘I don’t expect it to be waving around buying up left, right and centre. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there were other complementary investments.’
The investment is part of the 137-year-old High Street stalwart’s recovery under chief executive Steve Rowe and chairman Archie Norman. Shares have climbed more than 80 per cent this year as it bounces back from the pandemic. But there are also signs that it is finally turning the corner as it seeks to put years of struggles dating back to before the Covid outbreak behind it.
M&S was selling too many clothing lines leaving customers confused and under Rowe’s leadership it has slimmed down its offering.
It has also seen significant online growth as its guest brands attract new customers and encourage people to shop more often. The deal with Nobody’s Child comes amid reports 54-year-old Rowe could leave the company in as little as 18 months.
He joined the M&S Croydon store in 1983 and rose through the ranks to take the top job in April 2016, and is said to believe chief executives have a tenure of five to eight years. In an update this month that sent shares soaring to their highest levels since late 2019, Rowe said the ‘hard yards’ of his recovery plan were showing results.
The retailer was tipped last week by an investment bank to launch a takeover of Ocado’s retail business within four years.
It bought 50 per cent of Ocado’s UK online shopping arm for £750million in 2019, allowing customers to buy M&S products through the Ocado website.
The deal with Nobody’s Child comes amid reports M&S chief exec Steve Rowe (pictured) could leave the company in as little as 18 months
But Deutsche Bank said ‘it makes strategic sense’ for M&S to buy the remaining 50 per cent in a deal which could come in 2025 or earlier.
M&S is now said to be attracting interest from private equity.
Nobody’s Child is popular among late 20s and early 30-year-olds and stands out for its midi dresses, which have been part of more than a tenth of its orders online. The eco-friendly brand, worn by TV presenters Holly Willoughby and Fearne Cotton, has been available for a year through M&S online, where it has been the most visited guest brand.
Under the tie up, Nobody’s Child will operate independently but can expand using investment and infrastructure from M&S.
M&S did not say how much it paid for the 25 per cent stake. It touted Nobody’s Child’s eco credentials and said under the partnership they will team up on sustainability initiatives. The brand’s website states 88 per cent of its clothes are made from ‘responsible fabrics’.
Both brands have joined the backlash against throwaway fashion offering customers the chance to rent their clothing through online platform Hirestreet. M&S clothing and home managing director Richard Price said the investment will help the retailer become ‘more relevant’.
He said: ‘Nobody’s Child was the first brand to launch on M&S.com and has proved incredibly popular with new and existing M&S customers.’
Nobody’s Child chief executive Jody Plows said the brand is ‘perfectly positioned’ to meet the needs of M&S customers.
Black said one of the biggest improvements M&S has made is in working out what it should be selling. He said: ‘In the past there has been no consistency in what it stands for and who it stands for.
‘On the back of better core trading and Jaeger showing promise, this investment in Nobody’s Child is a further indication of M&S going forward with confidence and clarity.’
Bid talk boosts shares
Marks & Spencer shares hit a two-and-a-half year high amid reports it was targeted by US private equity firms.
In another boost for shareholders, the stock rose 2 per cent, or 4.7p, to 245.5p, its highest level since May 2019.
The shares have risen more than 80pc this year and 35 per cent this month alone – giving the High Street stalwart a market value of £4.83billion.
However, that will not be enough to propel it back into the FTSE 100 in the latest reshuffle next week.
Analysts believe a value of closer to £6billion is required to join the blue chip index.
M&S fell out of the Footsie in 2019 having been a permanent member since the index was formed more than three decades earlier.
The latest rise in the share price came after the Sunday Times said Apollo Global Management has been ‘running the rule’ over M&S.
The report said Apollo saw M&S as a bargain after shares tumbled in the Covid-19 pandemic. At one stage, the business was valued at less than £2billion.
However, the recent rally may have put off the American buyout barons.
And any approach is likely to face fierce opposition over concerns about one of Britain’s most famous names falling into private equity hands overseas.