2024 pe firms in fashion outlook for the pr advisor

PE Firms in Fashion Tightrope Walk in the Industry

In my ongoing 14-part series on the McKinsey State of Fashion 2024 report, we now turn to the section, “The Tumultuous Path to an Exit.”  Here, we find a deep dive into the investment landscape of the fashion industry, particularly focusing on the role and challenges faced by private equity firms.

The insights paint a picture of an investment environment in flux, with PE firms in fashion navigating a landscape altered by market shifts and evolving consumer behaviors. The fashion industry, once a straightforward choice for investors, now presents a more nuanced and challenging prospect, necessitating a strategic and adaptable approach to investment and exit strategies.

For PE Firms in Fashion, Investment Challenges in a Polarized Market

Struggle to Attract Investment: The fashion industry, especially its non-luxury segments, has been grappling with attracting investments. This difficulty stems from inconsistent performance and an increasingly polarized market. Fashion businesses seeking funding must showcase not only sustainable profitability but also clear brand equity and a tangible path to value creation.

Exit Strategy Dilemmas for PE Firms in Fashion

Tough Choices Ahead: PE firms in fashion looking to exit their fashion industry assets in 2024 face a daunting task. With public market volatility at its peak, finding attractive exit routes is more challenging than ever. This situation suggests that future deal-making might yield less-than-ideal returns, raising questions about long-term value creation in the fashion industry.

The Investment Landscape: Luxury vs. Non-Luxury

A Shift in Focus: There’s a clear divergence between the luxury and non-luxury segments. While luxury brands have outperformed market indexes, non-luxury brands have lagged. This disparity has led to PE investors becoming increasingly cautious, particularly towards non-luxury fashion categories.

Emerging Investment Trends for PE Firms in Fashion

Safer Bets Gaining Favor: The investment focus is noticeably shifting towards categories perceived as lower risk, such as luxury, sportswear, and B2B players within the fashion value chain. These areas are attractive for their minimized ‘fashion risk’ and potential for steady returns, as evidenced by recent transactions in the luxury manufacturing and components sectors.

Navigating the Exit Maze for PE Firms in Fashion

Limited Options and Compromised Returns: For PE firms in fashion, the exit landscape is narrowing. Options like strategic buyers and initial public offerings (IPOs) are not as viable as they once were, leading to a potential bottleneck in exit strategies. This bottleneck is exacerbated by a growing backlog of deals exceeding typical holding periods, particularly in segments now viewed warily by investors.

The Public Market Outlook

IPO Challenges and Select Successes: Public market exits, while an alternative, present their own set of challenges. The recent track record of AF&L IPOs has been a mixed bag, with some notable successes but generally challenging performances. Brands like Zegna and On, which have managed to perform well, underscore the importance of strong brand stories and consistent top-line growth.

Looking Ahead: 2024 Strategies for PE Firms in Fashion

Focus on Brand Health and Topline Growth: As 2024 approaches, fashion companies and their PE backers must focus on enhancing brand health, topline growth, and commercial excellence. Optimizing sourcing, rethinking categories, and exploring new channels will be key for PE firms in fashion. For those nearing exit, continuing investment without overstretching resources will be crucial, alongside a keen eye on evolving consumer sentiments and market dynamics.

A Cautious Dance with Opportunity

For PE firms in fashion and fashion brands alike, the path forward is a blend of strategic caution and opportunistic agility. As the industry evolves amidst economic uncertainties and shifting market preferences, the ability to adapt and innovate will be paramount in realizing sustainable growth and value creation.


  1. The Shifting Investment Landscape: The fashion industry, once a beacon for investors, is now struggling to attract consistent investment. This shift, particularly acute in non-luxury segments, reflects a broader trend of market polarization and investor caution. The industry’s inconsistent performance has made it a less attractive prospect for those seeking stable and predictable returns.
  2. Private Equity’s Cautious Stance: PE firms find themselves in a complex situation. Their traditional exit strategies through public markets or strategic sales are hindered by market volatility and a cautious approach from potential buyers. This dilemma is further exacerbated by the industry’s trend-driven nature, making long-term value creation a challenging proposition.
  3. The Appeal of Luxury and Diversification: The resilience and outperformance of luxury brands stand in stark contrast to the struggles of the broader market. This has led PE firms to focus on luxury, along with other stable segments like sportswear and wellness, or even B2B players in the fashion value chain, to mitigate direct fashion risks.
  4. The Complexity of Exits: For PE firms looking to exit their investments, the path is fraught with complications. The prospect of reduced returns, coupled with a backlog of deals exceeding typical holding periods, places significant pressure on these firms. The current economic climate only heightens the challenges, particularly for segments like women’s apparel and third-party retail, which are facing increasing headwinds.


The Road Ahead

  1. Investment Attractiveness in Decline: The fashion industry, especially its non-luxury segment, is witnessing a decline in its allure for investors due to market volatility and performance inconsistencies.
  2. Challenges for Private Equity Firms: PE firms face a tough exit environment, with limited options and the potential for compromised returns, reflecting the uncertainty in the fashion investment market.
  3. Luxury and Diversification as Safe Havens: There’s a noticeable pivot towards luxury and other less volatile segments, as well as indirect fashion industry investments, to reduce exposure to fashion risk.
  4. Navigating Complex Exits: Exiting investments in the current market requires strategic finesse, with a focus on segments less susceptible to fashion trends and broader economic pressures.

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