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Two university friends who set up a menswear shop with just £40,000 have crystallised a multi-million pound windfall after a stake sale valued their retail empire at more than £750m.
END founders Christiaan Ashworth and John Parker have offloaded control of their luxury online fashion retailer to buy-out giant The Carlyle Group after 16 years at the helm.
The founders will retain a significant minority stake in the business and stay on as joint chief executives to steer the company through an international expansion.
The pair said Carlyle's experience would be invaluable as END pursues an "increasingly international audience".
END Clothing was founded in Newcastle as a high street shop in 2005, but pivoted towards e-commerce a year later with the launch of an online retail store.
In a departure from the retail closures plaguing the British high street, END has launched stores in Glasgow and London's Soho over the past five years.
Sales and pre-tax profits grew respectively by 27pc to £171m and 17pc to £32m for the year to March 2020 compared with a year earlier, according to the latest accounts on Companies House.
END, which employs 650 people and sells to more than 100 countries, stocks more than 500 luxury brands and designers including Givenchy, Alexander McQueen, Kenzo and Valentino.
Carlyle's swoop has also paved the way for the exit of Index Ventures, the venture capital firm that has held a small stake in the company since 2014.
The deal marks the latest push into the retail sector for Carlyle, which has previously invested in the streetwear brand Supreme, Italian fashion label Golden Goose and Dutch lingerie and swimwear brand Hunkemoller.
Massimiliano Caraffa, a director at Carlyle, said: "We are excited by the many growth opportunities that lie ahead for the company, including the launch of womenswear as well as further international expansion."
The deal is the latest example of the flurry of activity in the e-commerce sector, which has proved a boom industry from the surge in online shopping during the pandemic.
Private equity giant Silver Lake took part in a $650m (£471m) funding round in Klarna, the online buy-now-pay-later firm, while Advent International bought a stake in UK arm package delivery firm Hermes in August.
Meanwhile, a string of online retailers are racing to join the fast fashion seller In the Style, Virgin Wines and Moonpig by going public on the London Stock Exchange.
Furniture seller Made.com and hobby retailer LoveCrafts are among the firms eyeing floats in the capital before the end of the year.
Such activity, however, has stoked fears in parts of The City that bankers may be inflating a dangerous bubble if these retailers fail to live up to their hype when lockdown ends.
The Treasury is exploring ways to “shift the balance” back towards the high street through an online sales tax.
The move has been mooted as a way of filling a hole in the government's coffers from dwindling business rates as the pandemic causes hundreds of stores to close on the high street.