The baby clothing and maternity wear retailer JoJo Maman Bébé – whose high-profile customers include the Duchess of Cambridge – has been snapped up by the high street company Next and a group of investment firms.
Laura Tenison, who started the business in 1993 from her flatshare kitchen table and turned it into one of the UK’s leading mother and baby retailers, said the new owners had “exciting plans to expand and grow the brand much faster than we ever could, giving us the opportunity to open in new markets”.
However, as part of the deal she will leave the business.
Next has taken on 44% of the firm’s shares, with the other 56% acquired by investment companies managed or advised by the hedge fund Davidson Kempner Capital Management. The shares were acquired from existing JoJo shareholders including Tenison.
In addition to its websites, JoJo Maman Bébé has 87 retail outlets and employs more than 950 people in the UK.
The company told staff that the new owners “are keen to keep our stores where they are trading profitably”, adding that going forward “there may be opportunities for more stores [and] new international websites”.
The value of the deal has not been disclosed, and it is not known how much Tenison received for her controlling stake in the business.
Tenison started the business after a serious car accident while living in France had left her laid up in hospital. In interviews she has said her ward-mate was a young mother with two small children who kept herself entertained by ordering from mail order catalogues.
“[Living in rural France] I couldn’t help noticing how well-dressed the children in France were. You’d see them out walking along the beach with their grandparents whatever the weather, with their great waterproof overalls and fishermans’ jackets on, picking things out of the sand,” she told an interviewer in 2020.
Having been thus inspired, in 1993 she began the JoJo business from her flatshare in London, with her “warehouse” her parents’ shed in south Wales.
The Duchess of Cambridge was pictured several times wearing a white maternity coat from the brand and is also said to have bought a number of items for her daughter, Princess Charlotte.
Commenting on the deal, Tenison said: “Growing JoJo from a kitchen table startup to being the UK’s leading specialist boutique mother and baby brand has been my priority for the past 30 years. I’m exceptionally proud of our achievements, and excited by the opportunities this new partnership will offer to the brand’s future.”
She told staff that it was important to Next and the other firms “that we retain the brand identity, values and talent, while permitting JoJo to benefit from the economies of scale of their bigger umbrella … Next and DK [Davidson Kempner] believe, as we do, that our stores hold a great value to the overall … business.” She added that it would keep its own dedicated website.
Gwynn Milligan, who joined JoJo Maman Bébé in 2017 as commercial director, has taken over as chief executive, and the other directors will be staying in their posts.
Next said the business would retain its management autonomy and creative independence. Next will also make a £16.3m investment in the brand, funded from its own cash resources.
Simon Wolfson, Next’s chief executive, said: “We are excited to see what can be achieved through the combination of JoJo’s exceptional product with Next’s infrastructure and Davidson Kempner as our investment partner.”