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Private Equity Firm Sycamore Partners Buying Talbots 01:37
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The private equity firm Sycamore Partners is buying Talbots, the Hingham-based clothing retailer, in hopes of turning around the 65-year-old brand.

Talbots’ core customers have been people like Ava Beaulieu, who’s a strategic planner at a Boston health care company.

"In the past I would buy suits, dresses, shoes and accessories for work," Beaulieu said.

She stopped buying at Talbots three years ago. With the recession, Beaulieu decided she didn’t need to restock her wardrobe as often. Patty Edwards, a retail industry analyst at Trutina Financial, says there were a lot of women like Beaulieu. And she says office fashions have been changing.

"The high tech world does not dress," Edwards said. "In fact, you’re considered overdressed if you show up with a jacket on."

Talbots first tried to respond by reaching out to younger customers. It didn’t work.

Twenty-five-year-old Kate Corda says none of her colleagues want to shop where their moms do.

"I don’t even think I’ve really been in there," Corda said.

Worse, loyal customers were turned off by the low-slung, frilly tops next to the gray suits.

Edwards says Talbots has to update its fashion lines, but keep them true to the brand.

"So that it is a cool place for 30- and 40-year-olds to go in and find suiting that is classic, but not dowdy," Edwards said.

Talbots’ new owner is getting a relatively cheap shot at a turnaround. Sycamore is buying the company for around 10 percent of the stock value five years ago.

This program aired on June 1, 2012.

Curt Nickisch Twitter Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.

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