Actis pays $151m for West African fashion

The firm has brought in former Laura Ashley veteran Hans Ouwendijk to run Vlisco, a Dutch maker of fabrics for West African clothing.

Emerging markets specialist Actis has purchased a 100 percent stake in the Vlisco Group, a Dutch-headquartered designer and manufacturer of wax fabrics clothing for the West African market.

Actis purchased its controlling stake for $151 million from Dutch-based textiles group Gamma Holding using “conservative” elements of debt in what partner Murray Grant called a “change-of-control” transaction.

“These change-of-control deals are relatively unusual in Sub-Saharan Africa-focused businesses,” Grant told PEO in an interview. “They therefore present attractive opportunities for private equity.”

Founded in 1846, Vlisco produces traditional West African wax fabrics which it then distributes as finished garments through four main brands targeting different segments of the West African clothing market. Vlisco also distributes the fabrics themselves wholesale to retailers.

Despite its European location, 1,500 of Vlisco’s 2,100 employees are based in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, and target markets are 100 percent West African, according to Grant, who regards Vlisco as a distinctly African business and one at the centre of what he calls the “consumer growth story” in sub-Saharan Africa.  
“One of the open questions we have is what can we do with those brands in other emerging markets” said Grant, who also spoke of possibilities for growing the brand in North America and Europe where there are sizeable West African Diaspora populations.

Actis is backing Hans Ouwndijk as the new chief executive officer of Vlisco. Ouwendijk spent 11 years working in various management positions at fashion house Laura Ashley and is the co-founder and former managing director of Fashion Fund One, a fashion sector-focused private equity fund.

The investment was made by Actis’ $2.9 billion Emerging Markets III fund, whose most recent investment is Brazilian supermarket chain operator Companhia Sulamericana de Distribuição.