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Can Arcadia alumni spur an M&S clothing comeback?

marks and spencer manchester

Once the darling of the high street, Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group has been battling dwindling sales, profits and footfall as shoppers move on to fast fashion, digital-native rivals.

Last summer the embattled group reported its first loss in seven years, which culminated in seven close-run company voluntary arrangements and the closure of 23 underperforming stores across the UK and Ireland.

The group’s fall from grace, alongside a reportedly negative work culture after allegations of sexist and racist behaviour were made against its boss, is most likely why several staff have made a run for the Oxford Street head office’s swanky glass exit.

But many have not made it too far across the retail pond. Over at Marks & Spencer’s Paddington headquarters, its clothing and home division is benefitting from fresh blood.

Under Wes Taylor, M&S’s menswear director and former Burton managing director, and womenswear and kidswear director Jill Stanton’s oversight, the fashion team has managed to poach a whole host of ex-Arcadia fashion product personnel, despite questions surrounding the retailer’s non-food-based future.

Drapers revealed this week that the retailer has appointed former Miss Selfridge buying and design director Alex Dimitriu as its new head of menswear buying.

It follows a string of Arcadia appointments over the last year, including Topshop fashion director Maddy Evans, who joined the retailer in a senior buying role; Topshop trading director Helen Wilson, who will join as head of merchandising for womenswear; Burton head of design Karen Hall, who will become the new M&S head of menswear design; and Arcadia creative director Anthony Cassidy, who will become M&S’s head of brand creative this spring.

It is certainly a leap into the dark, as fashion at Marks & Spencer has been in decline for years. Despite numerous attempts to revitalise its offer, clothing and home sales have yet to recover. In its latest results, UK clothing and home sales dropped by 3.7% year-on-year to £1bn in the 13 weeks to 28 December. Consequently, the influential credit ratings agency Moody’s downgraded the retailer’s credit rating from stable to negative.

Well-documented issues including an overly large and confusing offer, supply chain problems and poor availability of popular styles have dogged the “poisoned chalice” retailer.

Yet, many of these new hires have risen up the ranks at Arcadia Group, and with that comes not only resilience but a heap of expertise. Much like M&S, Arcadia’s apprenticeship, graduate, and broader staff training schemes are widely known as being standouts in the industry. Many ex-staff have gone on to be at the forefront of fruitful fashion retailers, including White Company’s Mary Homer and Barbara Horsepool, Mint Velvet’s Liz Houghton and Oasis and Warehouse’s Hash Ladha, to name a few.

Alongside other newcomers clothing and home boss Richard Price, chief finance officer Eoin Tonge and head of product development, technology and innovation for womenswear Monique Leeuwenburgh, fresh eyes and a team shake-up could provide the revival M&S desperately needs. It could also offer a younger product outlook to lure in that thirty-to-forty-something family shopper that M&S is desperate to attract. However, the retailer must be mindful not to alienate its core over-50s customer. Provided the retailer can strike the right balance between product, quality and getting the fundamentals right, its new hires could help M&S clothing to make a comeback.




Readers' comments (1)

  • Isn’t it a concern though, that Arcadia has not performed well for years and these are the management team that are now moving over to M&S? They would have played a part in the downfall of the Arcadia brand so I would be interested to see how they can suddenly turn it around for M&S.

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