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Deadline looms for Laura Ashley buyers

Three potential buyers have expressed interest in acquiring Laura Ashley, the UK-founded fashion and home furniture brand that went into voluntary administration earlier this month.

The potential buyers have been asked to provide firm offers by Monday, according to administrators from KordaMentha Restructuring, who held the first meeting of creditors in Melbourne on Thursday.

If there is no sale, all stores will be closed by the end of the month.

The company, which is operated under a licence agreement with the UK business, which is not affected by the administration process, has 17 stores and 100 employees in Australia.

Since the group went into voluntary administration on December 3, it has closed its online store and a store in Brisbane. All stock has been moved to stores for clearance sales.

Sales have been up over 300 per cent, as customers flock to stores to buy up deeply discounted items.

This is the second time Laura Ashley has gone into administration in as many years. The current owners acquired the business after then-director Daryl Chait appointed administrators in 2016.

KordaMentha’s Craig Shepard said the business has been hurt by the same factors affecting many other fashion retailers – a becalmed retail environment, rising fixed costs and fierce competition from online retailers.

“But it has an incredibly loyal customer base which has responded magnificently in the last fortnight,” Shepard said on Thursday.

Laura Ashley was founded in England by Laura and Bernard Ashley, who started printing fabric on their kitchen table after visiting a craft exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. They were inspired by Audrey Hepburn’s headscarves in the 1953 film Roman Holiday, and began producing scarves, then tea towels and placemats. The brand has maintained its classic English look while expanding into new catories.

Laura Ashley was introduced in Australia more than 35 years ago. At its peak, it had more than 45 stores Down Under.

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