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Keep faith with footwear specialists

Jessica Brown

Just six years ago a bidding war broke out over Faith, with private equity houses (and several trade players) falling over themselves to get a piece of what was clearly the best footwear specialist on the high street at that time.

Its reclusive but obsessive founder Jonathan Faith eventually sold up for £64m (what a deal) and walked away leaving a gaping chasm so wide in the management team - and indeed the footwear industry - that Faith never recovered.

It’s been a painful journey to witness, and last week Faith collapsed into administration for the second time in 18 months, leaving suppliers reeling and battling to reclaim their stock. The knock-on effect of this collapse up the supply chain and on staff doesn’t bear thinking about, particularly when you consider how much brand equity Faith has managed to hang on to, despite its discount strategies, tired shopfits and disappointing ranges over recent years.

Although I don’t doubt the Faith name will live on (almost certainly as an own brand in Debenhams, given Faith’s concession partner seems to hold all the cards - see p2), it’s a travesty that this business ever reached this stage, which is symptomatic not just of bad management but also of the darker side of historical debt-laden retail deals. While New Look, Peacocks and Primark churn out great shoes at bargain prices, you only have to visit the likes of Dune, Office and Kurt Geiger to see there remains a definite market for specialists with a handwriting. Witness also the strong shortlist for the Drapers Footwear Awards 2010, which takes place on May 27.

Sure, Faith has a rent bill and store estate issue, but our high street won’t be the same without it.

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