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Review of the year 2007

Drapers picks its way through the rain and the floods to recall the biggest news stories, influences and trends that made their mark during 2007.

Stories from two extremes kicked off the year. Tales of woe came from Adams Kids owner Myriad Childrenswear, which was put up for sale by Bridgepoint Capital after poor trading, and also from Stead & Simpson, which breached banking covenants. Rumours circulated about tough times at menswear business Speciality Retail Group, while footwear supplier Lambert Howarth was propped up with £13 million to fund turnaround plans.

However, Christmas 2006 did not turn out to be the “worst for 25 years”, as the late Seymour Pierce analyst Richard Ratner had predicted. Gift shopping came late, but young fashion chains and department stores reported strong sales. Independents fared less well, with sales flat at best.

Elsewhere, Marks & Spencer kicked off a plan to increase its number of fair trade cotton garments sold each year from 500,000 to 20 million within 18 months.

Separately, Indian textile firm Alok Group bought a controlling stake in value chain QS.

February was characterised by some surprise top-level moves across high street chains. Oasis product director Jane Woolf stepped down from her role at the chain after 16 years, and former Marks & Spencer head of womenswear design Barbara Horspool joined New Look in the newly-created position of trend director.

Adams Kids was rescued by former Stead & Simpson chairman John Shannon, who reportedly paid well under £15m for the 300-store chain. Meanwhile, David Lockyer stepped down as chief executive of Stead & Simpson after a decade with the business, and 39 years in the footwear industry.

The buying season was in full flow by February, but independents at Pure in London and Moda in Birmingham spent cautiously on autumn 07 stock amid concerns about mild weather.

Man of the month was Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley, who pulled off a spectacular feat by floating the discount chain at 300p per share, pocketing £929m in the process.

March also saw the launch of one of the year’s most exciting new concepts, as H&M’s Cos debuted on London’s Regent Street.
The year’s crazy weather patterns started here, and just a fortnight after a weekend of blazing sunshine, snow fell and blizzards hit Manchester. Those with winter stock still to clear praised the heavens, but for others the situation was madness.

More bad news followed when respected Sheffield independent Brother 2 Brother went into administration after more than 18 years of trading. Independent department store group Owen Owen also went out of business.

Shoppers hit the streets in April for what some multiples described as the best Easter weekend in several years.

Tesco’s chief executive for clothing and hard lines Terry Green decided to remain at the supermarket despite having talks with Marks & Spencer chief executive Stuart Rose about taking a job at the retailer. A bigger pay packet and extra responsibilities at Tesco probably helped Green make his decision.

Primark opened the doors to its London Oxford Street flagship and chaos ensued. Police were brought in to control the stampeding shoppers and a one-in-one-out door policy meant that queues were hours long.

April was another busy month in the footwear sector. Shellys closed its London Oxford Circus store, and the struggling Stead & Simpson was saved with a £30m refinancing deal. Kids’ footwear chain Instep went into administration – 10 of its shops were bought by European Sole.
Meanwhile, menswear supply group BMB acquired Swedish brand Melka, along with its 200 UK stockists and 2,000 global accounts.

Another month, another footwear casualty. Clarks announced it was closing its Ravel subsidiary after poor performance.

In the kidswear sector, six-store mini-chain Bratz hit the buffers when it went into administration, blaming high rents.

But in a month of sorry tales, Sir Philip Green ensured some pizzazz with the launch of the Kate Moss for Topshop collection. The range was rumoured to have brought in sales of £3.5m in its first week. New Look retaliated with its own celebrity tie-up in the shape of pop star Lily Allen and her Lily Loves range.

The battle of the value chains continued as Primark overtook Tesco and Asda to gain the second largest share – 8.9% – of the value market, behind Marks & Spencer’s 11.4%.

June was a washout after the worst floods in 60 years hit the UK. Retailers across the country were forced to shut up shop and there were astonishing pictures of Sheffield’s Meadowhall centre underwater.

While the weather may have been wet, the markets certainly weren’t. Chris Ronnie – Mike Ashley’s former right-hand man at Sports Direct – teamed up with investment firm Exista to buy Dave Whelan’s stake in JJB Sports for £190m.

Meanwhile, Debenhams scored a coup by persuading Ted Baker chief executive Ray Kelvin to create a Designers at Debenhams kidswear collection.

Gresham, Speciality Retail Group’s private equity owner, ousted chief executive Adrian Wright, 18 months into their ownership of the business.

But there was better news from Icelandic private equity firm Arev, which rescued designer mini-chain Limeys from administration and drafted in Cruise boss John Heath to run it. Limeys would later merge with Cruise.

Poor weather and interest rate hikes led to one of the worst summer trading periods in years, with frequent rain washing away many of the gains from the season’s positive start. With so much rain and flooded town centres, spend was diverted online instead. Online clothing sales were up 56% this month against the previous year, according to internet research group IMRG.

July brought another high-profile independent casualty as Midlands mini-chain Diffusion went into administration. However, the owners rescued the business and pledged to launch G-Star franchise stores in 2008.

The market share battle between supermarkets and department stores heated up. Supermarkets’ share rose by 0.9% to 7.4%, and department stores’ share fell to 7.3%.

Elsewhere, Icelandic investment firm Baugur acquired a £121m stake in US luxury department store Saks Fifth Avenue.

Drapers celebrated its 120th anniversary in August, but the month was more about commiserations than congratulations.
Both fast-fashion chain New Look and womenswear brand Viyella shelved sales of their businesses after failing to achieve prices acceptable to their owners.

Sir Philip Green entered a war of words with ethical campaign groups after Topshop was accused of exploiting factory workers producing its Kate Moss ranges. Green vehemently denied the allegations. Some better news for Green was that his Miss Selfridge chain had returned to profit.

There was movement in the accessories market as handbag brand Radley appointed advisers as a precursor to a sale. Meanwhile, Kurt Geiger pocketed the French Connection and Agent Provocateur footwear licences.

More rescue deals emerged for companies in trouble as outdoor brand Hawkshead was bought out of administration by Regatta and Monserrat owner Kelvin Gill picked up the rights to the Brother 2 Brother name.

September kicked off with one of the most controversial stories of the year, as House of Fraser asked suppliers to contribute to its £50 million rebranding in a bid to reposition itself as an upmarket department store. But the demand was not well received, with suppliers balking at the revised terms. Some womenswear brands said they would seek legal action and a young fashion supplier threatened to pull out of HoF altogether. On a more positive note, HoF bought the rights to womenswear brand Episode to boost its own-label offer.

Etailer Oli smashed its sales target by £1m after racking up sales of £3m in its first three weeks trading.

The month finished as dramatically as it began, with ethical designer Katharine Hamnett telling Drapers she said would not renew her contract with Tesco in 2008, questioning the supermarket giant’s dedication to her organic range.

October brought some of the saddest news of the year with the death of Seymour Pierce analyst Richard “Ratty” Ratner following a heart attack.

The House of Fraser saga continued into October, with chairman Don McCarthy hitting back at suppliers, justifying the rebranding terms due to rising rents, rates and utility costs. Baugur, which has a stake in HoF, began plotting its takeover bid for department store Saks Fifth Avenue, marking the investor’s biggest strike in the US.

Footwear supplier Lambert Howarth went into administration, while womenswear retailer LK Bennett was put up for sale by founder Linda Bennett.

Primark boss Arthur Ryan quashed rumours about his retirement, pledging to stay at the helm for another four years.
Meanwhile, Westfield Derby shopping centre opened. The £340m scheme featured the debut Lab Boutique store, brainchild of sportswear veteran Mike Guest.

Topshop signed an 80,000sq ft store in New York’s SoHo, which is due to open next summer. Arcadia boss Sir Philip Green signalled his intent to move his brand portfolio away from the price-driven value market and into mid-market territory in the spring with overhauls at Dorothy Perkins and Wallis.

House of Fraser acquired young fashion brand Criminal from Baugur. The Criminal wholesale arm was immediately axed.

Private equity firms were busy in November, with 3i buying luxury lingerie label Agent Provocateur, while discount sports etailer M and M Direct drafted in former Tesco Direct boss Steve Robinson as chief executive, after being bought by US private equity firm TA Associates.

At the Drapers Fashion Summit, Marks & Spencer boss Stuart Rose warned retailers not to panic-discount this Christmas. York independent Sarah Coggles picked up three accolades at the Drapers Awards, including Independent Retailer of the Year, and designer Jeff Banks scooped the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Retailers pulled out all the stops to get shoppers through the doors in the run-up to Christmas, with mega days, brand spectaculars and email discount vouchers.

A restructuring of the fashion team at Marks & Spencer resulted in trading director for womenswear, lingerie and girlswear Matt Hudson quitting the business.

Dutch menswear chain Suit Supply debuted in the UK and announced its intent to give Moss Bros a run for its money with plans to open up to 50 stores.

Retail guru David Jones gave retailers food for thought, predicting that online and out-of-town retail would signal the end of high street shopping.

Department store chain Debenhams appointed former George at Asda global managing director Angela Spindler as managing director.

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