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Playboy buys Australian lingerie chain Honey Birdette for $443 million

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Honey Birdette has been sold to the company behind Playboy magazine in a $US333 million ($443 million) deal set to rapidly grow the Australian lingerie chain’s international presence.

Announced overnight in Los Angeles, PLBY Group, which is listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange, told investors it had purchased the Australian brand with a combination of cash and stock.

Honey Birdette was founded in 2006 by Eloise Monaghan. The business operates around 60 stores mostly in Australia, with some in the US and UK. Nearly two-thirds of the business was owned by retail veteran Brett Blundy through his investment company BBRC International.

PLBY Group was started by the late Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and runs a number of operations under the Playboy brand, including various fashion products, sexual amenities, gaming locations and beauty products.

Chief executive Ben Kohn said the acquisition of Honey Birdette would help expand Playboy’s portfolio and provide it with product design, sourcing and direct-to-consumer capabilities to grow its apparel business further.

“We strongly believe in the power of brands, and are thrilled by Honey Birdette’s potential to become a multi-billion-dollar luxury lifestyle franchise,” he said.

“I’ve been enormously impressed by Eloise and the rest of the Honey Birdette team and the organic, rapid growth they’ve driven. This acquisition is expected to further our mission to become the leading pleasure and leisure lifestyle platform and our commitment to deliver long-term value to our shareholders.”

Honey Birdette is expected to report $73 million in revenue and $28 million in earnings for the 2021 financial year, with profits having nearly doubled on the prior-year period.

The company has courted controversy during its 15-year existence, having been repeatedly called out by the advertising standards watchdog for its racy advertising posters and sparking protest over its treatment of sales assistants, who were allegedly referred to as “showgirls”.

Honey Birdette co-founder sues over her skimpy payout. In 2019, former co-founder Janelle Barboza took the company and Mr Blundy to court, claiming she was short-changed when selling her stake in the business.

Ms Monaghan said the sale was a “momentous and proud” day for the retailer, with the Playboy deal moving the company into partnership with one of the world’s most iconic brands.

“When I founded Honey Birdette 15 years ago, my ambition was to build a brand for women, by women; a brand that would serve as a platform for confidence and sexual and body empowerment. I am immensely proud of everything we’ve accomplished – with 60 thriving stores across three countries – powered by 350 fierce female ambassadors,” she said.

“I’m thrilled to join Ben and the whole PLBY Group team on a mission to build a lifestyle of pleasure for all.”

On Wednesday, shares in a number of Mr Blundy’s other retailers rose significantly, with fashion jewellery chain Lovisa gaining 7.8 per cent, linen trader Adairs up 3.2 per cent and youth fashion store Universal rising 2 per cent.

Honey Birdette will open new flagship stores in Dallas, Miami and New York over the coming months and will continue to focus on expanding its footprint across the UK, US and Europe.