“It is with great pride and joy that we take the reins.”

Two of equestrianism’s best-known brands – Champion and Toggi – have a major new investor.

On Friday, Michael O’Rouke’s Irish based investment company TDL Media completed its acquisition of a majority stake in Finest Brands Holdings Limited, the home of Champion, Toggi and ProLine Sports. 

Sarah-Jane Fedarb, managing director of Finest Brands, whose late father John Ayres founded Champion almost 50 years ago, is to remain actively involved as a director.

She told ETN that it is very much “business as usual, with the benefit of new ideas and new investment from successful entrepreneurs who have a passion for sport in general, and in particular a passion for horses” following TDL Media’s investment.

“We are very committed to the trade,” added Ms Fedarb. “We really value our retail partners and with a reputation built on safety, we like our products to be individually fitted to each rider by a BETA-trained safety fitter in store.”

British manufacture to continue

Finest Brands’ 80 employees have been aware of the investment discussions and told their jobs are safe. 

Offers from other investors were rejected, said Ms Fedarb, due to her concerns over her team's jobs being secure and British manufacturing continuing, which remains a top priority for her. 

TDL Media has signed a long lease for the company’s sites in Cardiff - where Champion safety products are hand-made, and Leeds – where Finest Brands is headquartered.

Champion helmet and body protectors and ProLine Sports sports products and bespoke medical supports will continue to be handmade in Great Britain.

Safety pioneer

Equestrian safety pioneer John Ayres and his wife Bridget founded Champion after he became dissatisfied with the quality of protective riding helmets available for his daughters and all riders. 

Champion went on to become the first brand to launch riding hats made to the British PAS 015 standard. Body protectors followed and, more recently, MIPS technology was introduced to Champion helmets to help enhance protection further.

John Ayres passed away in 2013 and his family have continued to operate the business.

“Selling the business was understandably a very challenging decision for the family, however it has been a comfort to know that we were selling to TDL and the team there,” said Ms Fedarb.

“The TDL team share the same values and ethos that we have built up within the company at Finest Brands, we all look forward to handing over the reins and remaining part of this exciting next chapter for the business.”

Ms Fedarb offered her family’s “sincere thanks to the amazing, dedicated teams, both past and present, at our Finest Brands head office in Leeds and the Champion and ProLine factories in Cardiff, whose work helps to save lives.”

Putting something back

Toggi’s high quality clothing and footwear has been a popular feature of the discerning equestrian and outdoor scene for nearly 40 years.

The Toggi brand supports the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) with sponsorship and clothing for international riders and their support teams, and with a percentage of the Team GBR retail sales going back to the BEF to generate additional funds for all equestrian disciplines.

“Pride and joy”

Michael O’Rourke of TDL said: “It is with great pride and joy that we take the reins at Finest Brands.

“Champion, Toggi and ProLine are brands which are rich in history yet, like us, they are very much focused on the future. We’re excited to see what can be achieved.”

Investments across media, sport and tech

Founded in 2010, TDL Media invests across the media, sports and tech industries either on a majority or minority basis.

Its current portfolio of investments includes majority ownership of sports broadcasters Premier Sports Ireland, Premier Sports Asia and W Sport (the world’s first dedicated women’s sports channel).

It is also the owner of Elite Ice Hockey League team Glasgow Clan and the Braehead Arena as well the League of Ireland football team Shelbourne FC.

Other investments include Zero Latency (a virtual reality gaming experience) and Circulator (email communications specialist).