Laura Ashley to pay shareholders special dividend

The company said it will pay the special interim dividend of 0.5p per share to “show our appreciation to the shareholders for their continued support”.

The dividend will mean a pay-out for the Malaysian investors that control around 60pc of the company. This includes the MUI Group, the conglomerate which rescued Laura Ashley in 1998 and holds 34pc, and Bonham Industries, the investment vehicle of chairman Dr Khoo Kay Peng, which holds 25pc.

Laura Ashley founded the company with her husband Bernard, later Sir Bernard Ashley, in 1953 when they began making headsquares, tablemats and napkins out of fabric they had dyed and printed themselves in the kitchen of their Pimlico flat.

Mrs Ashley had been inspired to start printing fabric after visiting a Women’s Institute exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum on handicrafts.

Mrs Ashley and Sir Bernard, who quit his job as a stockbroker in the City to support his wife’s fledging operations, began to focus on producing scarves for retailers.

The growing popularity of Laura Ashley’s floral prints led to the couple leaving London and setting up in the mining heartland of Wales, where Mrs Ashley was originally from.

Laura Ashley set up its base in the former railway station at Carno in Powys, where it grew into a national and then global fashion brand.

Mrs Ashley developed the company’s products – including a move from casualwear into social dresses in 1966 – while Sir Bernard developed the business.

Laura Ashley opened its first shop in 1968 and grew into 450 around the world by the end of the 1980s, including sites in cities such as Tokyo and San Francisco.

However, in 1985, Laura Ashley died after falling down the stairs while celebrating her 60th birthday.

Two months after her death, Sir Bernard successfully floated Laura Ashley with it valued at £200m, but the company ran into turmoil in the 1990s without its eponymous co-founder.

In 1998, MUI Group invested in Laura Ashley with the retailer teetering on the brink of collapse and its Welsh factories closing.

Since then, Laura Ashley has been rebuilt. In the last year, it posted a 9pc increase in annual pre–tax profit to £20.1m with sales in the UK grew 3.1pc to £263m.


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