| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Women's apparel maker J Brand has hired Morgan Stanley (MS.N) to help it explore strategic options, including a sale or an initial public offering, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
The Los Angeles-based privately held company, known for its luxury denim jeans, which can cost upward of $170, has sent out pitch books over the last two to three weeks and first rounds bids are due soon, one of the sources said.
Morgan Stanley declined to comment. J Brand was not immediately available for comment.
Potential bidders for J Brand could include corporate buyers such as Hong Kong-based multinational Li & Fung Ltd (0494.HK); Jones Group Inc, which owns brands such as Rachel Roy and B Brian Atwood; Kellwood Co KWD.UL, which houses Vince and Rebecca Taylor; VF Corp (VFC.N), which owns 7 For All Mankind; and G-III Apparel Group Ltd (GIII.O), which owns the Andrew Marc line, said a separate source with knowledge of the industry.
Private equity firms that focus on retail such as Catterton Partners, TA Associates and Leonard Green & Partners, could also take a look, the source said.
In a sale, J Brand's valuation could reach 10 times to 11 times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, one of the sources said. The company's current EBITDA is under $100 million, but will likely command high multiples because it is considered a fast-growing lifestyle brand.
All sources spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.
J Brand would mark the latest apparel maker taking advantage of a ripe retail M&A market, where brand names have been successful in finding buyers, mostly in the private equity sector.
Recent deals in the sector include the sale of Lane Bryant's parent, Charming Shoppes Inc, to Ascena Retail Group Inc (ASNA.O) for $890 million; designer Kenneth Cole taking private the namesake company for $280 million; and Talbots Inc's TLB.N buyout by Sycamore Partners for $193 million.
There have also been several retail IPOs over the last year and a half, including Michael Kors Holdings Ltd (KORS.N), Vera Bradley Inc (VRA.O) and Tumi Holdings Inc TUMI.N. However, the performance of these companies has been mixed, with Tumi down 33 percent year to date, Vera Bradley down 34 percent and Michael Kors up 54 percent.
J Brand has been majority held by Star Avenue Capital LLC, a private equity group formed in partnership with Irving Place Capital and sports agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA), since 2010.
Star Avenue and Irving Place declined to comment. CAA was not immediately available for comment.
J Brand, founded in 2004, is sold at top department stores in the United States, such as Barneys New York, Saks Inc SKS.N, Nordstrom Inc (JWN.N) and Bloomingdale's, a unit of Macy's Inc (M.N), which have all enjoyed big gains in same-store sales in the last two years.
Sales of high end jeans have held up far better than affordable jeans, which many consumers view as a commodity.
(Additional reporting by Phil Wahba; editing by Andre Grenon)