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Cracks grow wider as My-Wardrobe hits another bump in the road

Just five days into September and the quiet month of August has been left firmly behind.

Dominating the headlines this week were House of Fraser and My-Wardrobe.com. The sale of House of Fraser to Chinese business Nanjing Xinjiekou Department Store Co came as no surprise, and the news that My-Wardrobe has cancelled all spring 15 orders, while less expected, will still not come as much of a shock to some. The etailer has been on a rocky road for a number of years and although it is standing by its statement that it is simply putting the business on pause, I have no doubt that industry speculation will be that this business is now in serious trouble.

For the future of My-Wardrobe to be in question again is a huge shame for those involved. Although founders Sarah and Andrew Curran have both left the company (Sarah in July 2013 and Andrew in April this year), when it was set up in 2006 it quickly made a big impression in the ecommerce sector.

Finding its place in the market somewhere between Asos and Net-A-Porter, the site’s success was built on its strong product offer - with prices from £50 to £800 - backed up by Sarah Curran’s huge publicity drive (along with PR director Lauren Stevenson, now running her own PR business). Appearing everywhere from US business news TV channel CNBC to Vogue and Hello, Curran worked the media to put what was still a relatively small business into the minds of shoppers.

When Drapers interviewed Curran back in 2009, My-Wardrobe had made a profit for the first time and notched up sales of £5.1m for the year to June 30, up 160% on the year before. Brands on the site included By Malene Birger, Vivienne Westwood Anglomania, Pringle 1815,Lyle & Scott and Paul Smith. The ethos was ‘accessible luxury’ and Curran had a clear vision and customer focus.

Fast-forward three years to 2012 and Curran had taken a back seat, with former Harrods Direct ecommerce boss David Worby installed as chief executive. The industry was beginning to question My-Wardrobe’s direction after it reported a net loss of £3.8m for the year to June 30, 2011, but the company said this reflected its investment in infrastructure and preparation for international expansion. However, My-Wardrobe never seemed to recover from this point, with a lack of consistency and a series of high-level staffing changes leaving the etailer looking lost - and without the strength of the previous PR machine holding it up.

My-Wardrobe became known for discounting, which not only devalued its proposition but also upset brands and designers, and ultimately some of these relationships were lost. Worby left in the wake of a pre-pack administration in November 2013 and, although it was then sold to Growth Capital Acquisitions, the cracks had opened up.

Despite a recruitment drive, change of head office location and the introduction of schemes such as ‘try before you buy’ (allowing customers to order clothes and have them delivered for free,then charging seven days later for the items they have decided to keep), My-Wardrobe lacked a clear strategy in the last 12 months, whichmeant it has been unable to turn the business around and win back its core customers.

This latest news begs the question whether the etailer will ever be able to restore the faith in the business that brands once had - especially from those that have produced stock for spring 15 and are now scrambling to find new stockists - and it is difficult to see how it can come back from this.

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