I spoke to the owner of a young fashion brand the other day and the news was not good. Menswear was bad, he reported; womenswear was a bloodbath.
In this week's issue, one of our Talking Shop columnists, who runs an independent young fashion mini-chain, has shut one of his five shops because of impossibly tough trading. The closure is a result of a triple whammy: a downturn in local trade, terrible weather and intense competition from the multiples, the internet and the value sector.
This week we also report that supermarkets' share of consumer fashion spend has overtaken department stores' share for the first time (see page 2).
It is a telling fact, not just because it indicates where spend has migrated. It also shows how the cheap-as-chips areas of the market - of which the supermarkets are a strong force - have totally changed the way shoppers perceive 'value', not just at the bottom of the market but in the middle and at the top too.
It is all these factors, coupled with many young fashion brands' horrendously out-of-date and unreactive supply chains, that have hit a lot of labels that would have been stalwarts of the Drapers Indicator top 10 brands list less than five years ago.
In the past 10 years, I don't think I have ever seen brand cachet among consumers in the mid-price range at such an all-time low in this sector. So what is the end game for young branded womenswear retailers in the UK?
The first thing to say is that if you're brave enough, there are still wins to be had in this sector, and these lie in the Achilles heel of the high street multiple. For all their speed, buying power and pricing agility, they are increasingly at risk of looking stultifyingly samey.
The consolidation of the high street brands into conglomerate businesses, together with a heavily interconnected supply base and a herd mentality on interpreting trends into winners, is stifling some of these high street retailers. In the past two seasons it has really started to show in their product.
The second thing to note is that the multiples that moved into the womenswear market about five years ago, thinking that the sector would offer a quick way to generate a shedload of sales, are moving out of it fast - witness USC scaling back its womenswear offer by 50% (Drapers, May 26).
What impact will this have on the young branded womenswear indie? For those who decide to tough it out, I think it can only mean one thing, that things can only get better. But a positive outcome for businesses in this part of the sector will only be achieved by those who are prepared to be bold.
The retailers that come out intact will be different from when they entered this tough trading period - they are likely to have a whole new brand line-up. When buying, they will look for difference, detail, great value and speed. They will seek out the brands that can deliver on that, while ruthlessly jettisoning those that can't.