Exclusive: Riding gear maker Ariat sold to Gap founders

Wed Jun 6, 2012 9:21pm EDT

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(Reuters) - Ariat International, a high-end riding gear maker whose apparel has been worn by the likes of socialite Paris Hilton and the daughter of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is being sold to its management and the Fisher family, the founders of Gap Inc (GPS.N), a source said on Wednesday.

Union City, California-based Ariat, whose owners include private equity firms LNK Partners and Brentwood Associates, did not disclose the sale price. But one source familiar with the situation said the company generates roughly $300 million in revenue and was likely valued at $350 to $400 million.

Ariat traces its origins to the early 1990s, when co-founders Beth Cross and Pam Parker set out to make better riding boots because the "traditional boots were stiff, heavy and hard on the feet."

Over the years, the company has expanded into apparel and accessories for equestrian sports, fashion and work. It has also sponsored various equestrian events and athletes.

These include equestrian Georgina Bloomberg, the daughter of New York's mayor. In an Ariat community blog post, Bloomberg said she wears Ariat boots and her favorite pants to wear for riding are Ariat Olympia breeches.

In 2006, American celebrity Hilton wore Ariat pants for a Vanity Fair cover photo, in which she posed topless.

LNK and Brentwood invested in the company in 2006. At the time, LNK said it had invested $61 million to acquire a significant minority stake in Ariat.

Los Angeles-based Brentwood targets invested in middle-market, consumer-related businesses and manages more than $650 million. Their current stakes could not be learned.

The Ariat acquisition follows a series of other deals in the footwear sector. The Jones Group Inc JNY.N said on Monday it had acquired upscale shoe brand Brian Atwood for an undisclosed sum.

In May, Wolverine Worldwide Inc (WWW.N), the maker of Hush Puppies, teamed up with private equity firms Blum Capital Partners and Golden Gate Capital for Collective Brands Inc PSS.N in a $1.3 billion deal.

Blum Capital and Golden Gate took over Payless ShoeSource, while Wolverine acquired the remaining brands, including Sperry Top-Sider and Keds.

Peter J. Solomon advised the company on the sale.

Brentwood Associates LNK Partners and Peter J. Solomon declined to comment.

(Reporting By Olivia Oran from Reuters News and Luisa Beltran from peHub; Editing by Paritosh Bansal and Ron Popeski)

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