Label co-founders limit their role to matters of style

The co-founders of Australian fashion label sass & bide, Sarah-Jane Clarke and Heidi Middleton, have resigned as directors of the business empire they created 14 years ago as new owner Myer tightens its grip on the label.

The co-founders of Australian fashion label sass & bide, Sarah-Jane Clarke and Heidi Middleton, have resigned as directors of the business empire they created 14 years ago as new owner Myer tightens its grip on the label.

The fashion duo, who took the label from a simple idea to a stalwart of the global catwalk with annual sales of more than $50 million, will remain closely involved with the business and will maintain their executive roles, as well as sit on an advisory board.

Following Myer's decision last month to purchase the remaining 35 per cent in sass & bide it did not own, the department store has filled the board positions on the fashion label's holding company, Boogie & Boogie Pty Ltd, as well as a string of subsidiary companies under the sass & bide livery.

Crucially for Myer as it looks to build on sass & bide's worldwide success, and an expansion of the label's range into areas such as lingerie, the co-founders will still spearhead the business's style direction. Despite no longer being directors of the fashion company they started in 1999, Middleton will remain the creative director of sass & bide, while Clarke will keep her job as brand director. Both will also remain ambassadors for the fashion label as well as keep up their usual public appearances.

The duo's departure from the board of Boogie & Boogie and sass & bide Pty Ltd does mean they will have limited scope to oversee the financial and strategic direction of the business, with Myer now in full control of the fashion label's future.

Myer, the nation's biggest department store, first bought a 65 per cent stake in sass & bide in February 2011 for $42.3 million. Since then, sass & bide has delivered a consistently strong performance for its investors, increasing sales by 45 per cent and profit by 112 per cent.

Documents lodged with the corporate regulator show sass & bide posted full-year sales of $51.28 million in 2011-12, up from $41.82 million in the previous financial year, while net profit increased to $5.16 million from $3.566 million.

When it took full ownership, paying about $30 million for the remaining 35 per cent, Myer pledged to retain sass & bide's autonomy of management and, importantly, design.

Under the leadership of the co-founders, sass & bide successfully navigated its way through the global financial crisis without lurching into crisis, and is one of the few local fashion labels to generate a lucrative return for its backers.

Clarke, an accountant, and Middleton, an art director, met in Brisbane in the early 1990s and were soon off to London to seek their fortune, setting up a stall in the Portobello market where they sold clothes.

Their T-shirts and miniskirts did well but it was their cut-off three-quarter jeans that found a real following among local shoppers. They soon returned to Sydney to try their hand at the fashion game full-time, taking their label's name from their nicknames - Sass being Middleton's pet name for Clarke and Bide a family name moniker for Middleton.

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