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New investment venture UCG to buy hip brands and scale them for China

Frank And Oak

Former Fung Retailing Group MD Dustin Jones has teamed with an investment banker to launch a new business to acquire brands and scale them into the world’s largest retail economies, with a major focus on China. 

Jones, who also headed Macy’s foray into Mainland China and served as its executive VP for a time, is partnered by Greg Freihofner, former MD of Societe General and senior VP at Credit Suisse. 

Their venture, Unified Commerce Group (UCG), has announced its first acquisition, Canadian fashion and lifestyle brand Frank And Oak.

Besides capital, UCG will invest expertise and experience into the ventures it adopts, backed by an advisory board comprising high-profile, experienced retail and fashion industry professionals. They include Terry Lundgren, the former chairman and CEO at Macy’s; Chinese influencer and supermodel Bonnie Chen; Clifford Chance partner Gary Boss; former chief communications officer at Li & Fung, Lale Kesebi; celebrity Nicole Richie; Stanley Szeto, the executive chairman at Lever Style; Joel Madden, CEO, MDDN & Lead Singer of Good Charlotte; and Tim Adams, former chairman at Macy’s China.

Jones, who is CEO of the new venture, said that while the pandemic has accelerated the disruption of the retail industry, UCG “will bring a fresh approach that leads into the future of retail, leveraging our unique platform and deep industry insights to partner with brands that we believe in, and grow and operate those brands on a global scale”.

Dustin Jones, co-founder and CEO of UCG.

Freihofner, who is CFO, said UCG is looking to acquire and advise brands that are data-driven, appeal to global consumers and are poised to scale. 

“We’re taking a symbiotic approach to brand acquisition by acquiring and investing in brands that have strengths in different areas. By taking this approach, in combination with our extensive network and multi-faceted industry experts, UCG’s platform is looking to ensure the long-term growth and profitability of our brands.”

The brands that UCG will focus on will be purpose-driven, have global appeal, and be advanced in digitisation. 

Jones and Freihofner said Frank And Oak fits UCG’s model perfectly, combining style, design, and technology, offering collections of clothing and accessories for men and women that are thoughtfully designed and well suited to meet the lifestyles of its customers.

“In order to succeed within the shifting global retail market, brands must change their way of working to put the consumer at the centre of everything they do,” said Elisabeth de Gramont, chief brand officer at UCG.

“We have created a platform that will design, operate, and scale brands so that they will appeal to consumer audiences on a global level, while ensuring locally relevant execution in the shifting trends of the North American and Asian markets.”

Unprecedented change

Lundgren says the retail landscape is changing in unprecedented ways, from the pandemic to new digital and direct-to-consumer players, as well as changing lifestyles and fashion choices. 

“Since his days at Macy’s, I’ve witnessed Dustin become a pioneer in digital retail and innovation, and forge important partnerships with global players like the Alibaba Group and the Fung Group. Dustin and the UCG team have the skills, the innovative thinking, and the global network to bring a new model to the market when it is most needed.”

Madden, meanwhile, says that UCG’s approach to acquiring brands is less about the numbers and more about whether or not that brand fits into their holistic vision of the future consumer and retail. “They’re looking for brands that have authenticity and a genuine identity. Dustin and Greg approach the world and look at brands in a soulful way – they’re committed to maintaining and amplifying the true core of these brands – and that’s what excites me about this launch and their offering. There’s really unlimited potential.”

Headquartered in New York City, UCG will have offices in Shanghai and Hong Kong. 

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