Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has emerged as the front runner to snap up the majority of collapsed fashion chain Republic’s business.

Sources told Retail Week that Ashley is interested in acquiring the brand and stock of the retailer, although he could also be interested in the whole business.

It is understood that the Ashley deal could be signed within the next few hours.

Republic collapsed earlier this month, with Ernst & Young appointed administrator. Stores in Dundee, Stirling, Fort Kinnaird in Edinburgh, Silverburn in Glasgow and Glasgow Fort shut earlier this week.

Other parties interested in Republic include the family behind retail giant Matalan.

Ashley cut his stake in Sports Direct to 64% earlier this week after raising £100m through his first sale of the retailer’s shares since he floated the company in 2007.