Westport to Buy Master

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NEW YORK – Westport Corp. has signed a letter of intent to acquire Master Accessories, a move that expands the buyer’s men’s business and its representation in the upper tier.

Kevin Ross, president of Westport, confirmed that the deal had been signed and is expected to close by Feb. 1. Harold Master, the principal of the firm that bears his name, will join Westport as head of its men’s designer division. Ross declined to discuss the selling price.

Included in the acquisition are Master’s licenses for both Joseph Abboud and and its Joe offshoot for men’s belts.

Westport, among the largest accessories businesses in the U.S., is based in Pine Brook, NJ, and does much of its business with department stores. Although as a privately held firm it doesn’t disclose sales numbers, it ships about 20 million accessories units a year.

Although the Master acquisition will launch it into the better tier of the men’s business, Westport has worked in the men’s market before. It holds the license for Perry Ellis, Perry Ellis Portfolio and Perry Ellis America for virtually all men’s accessories categories except belts. It has a similar relationship with Kenneth Cole for women’s, where it produces and markets virtually all accessories except handbags, which are handled in-house.

It also holds the license for women’s handbags and small leather goods under the Kenneth J. Lane brand and, through its insignia/premium division, sells leather goods and bags to over 2,000 college bookstores under its house Mundi label.

“We’re always looking for additional licenses, but our highest priority is that the licenses we take on are non-competing,” Ross noted. “Abboud doesn’t conflict with Perry Ellis, for instance.

“This puts us firmly in luxury, but our goal here is to become an all-encompassing men’s and women’s accessories resource,” Ross told MRketplace.com. “Now that we have belts, we cover all categories in leather accessories. This makes us a more dominant player in men’s, and belts are a larger business than small leather goods.”

About two-thirds of Master’s production comes out of Italy, where the company has a joint-venture arrangement that will continue, according to Ross. Westport produces in both Europe and Asia but has no domestic production.

Ross said that the two companies are still reviewing how to best utilize their existing sales forces.

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