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Editor’s Comment: Oasis/Warehouse collapse is a blow to us all

Kirsty McGregor

The high street is going to look very different when we come out of lockdown, in more ways than one.

Social distancing measures will transform the way customers shop for fashion in the short term. They may have to go alone, queue to enter stores, pause for a squirt of hand sanitiser, and buy clothing without trying it on.

Retailers that have built success on providing unique customer experiences in store will be faced with a new reality that is distinctly less sociable and exciting, and will have to find new ways to forge emotional connections with their customers.

But not only that, more units will stand empty. The latest retail casualty is Oasis and Warehouse Group, whose stores and online operations are to close after it collapsed into administration. 

Six months ago, Drapers visited the group’s bright and colourful head office in east London to meet its affable CEO Hash Ladha. The resulting interview was full of plans for the future – to grow its wholesale and retail channels, expand into menswear, and launch a new marketplace model. The group acquired online menswear retailer The Idle Man last September and was looking at further additions to its portfolio.

Oasis and Warehouse Group faced its challenges, of course. It struggled to compete with its more nimble – and often cheaper – womenswear rivals. The group’s 92 stores were costly to run, concessions were hit by the collapse of House of Fraser, and a rethink of its both its product and sales channels was required to edge Warehouse back into the black. 

Yet under Ladha’s leadership, the company had a bright future – until the coronavirus pandemic hit. 

Now, sadly, two well-known fashion brands are to disappear from the high street, resulting in the loss of 1,803 jobs, and another blow for suppliers.

Interviewed for our new Drapers Connects series of live online events, Joules boss Nick Jones this week said he believes bricks-and-mortar stores still have a part to play in fashion retail: “Yes, the pandemic has accelerated digital channels, but I firmly believe that, for our brand, physical stores will remain important. The high street will evolve and adapt.”

However, things are likely to get worse before they get better. Chief medical officer Chris Whitty has warned that some form of social distancing could be required until at least the end of this year. More job losses are likely to follow. 

That’s why our campaign with our charity partner, the Fashion and Textile Children’s Trust (FTCT), is so important.

The Drapers x FTCT Covid-19 Appeal was set up to help provide grants for the children of UK fashion and textile workers, to support those with financial difficulties in buying necessities such as clothing, bedding and specialist equipment for those children who need it. 

We have so far raised almost £7,000, but with your help we can do more. Please donate at ftct.org.uk/appeal/covidappeal 

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