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This week in history...

Harvey Nichols plotted more UK stores, a world cotton shortage loomed, and Glasgow factory girls revolted…

1994…

Harvey Nichols planned to build a small chain of stores across the UK, Drapers reported on April 30 1994.

Sites in Glasgow and Manchester were among six provincial sites earmarked for the potential development of stores between 10,000sq ft and 20,000sq ft, a partner with property agent Strutt and Parker confirmed.

A pilot store would open by spring or autumn 1995, depending on site availability. Harvey Nichols managing director Joseph Wan said resources from cash generated by the business’s London Knightsbridge store would fund the expansion.

Hong Kong entrepreneur Dickson Poon, who bought the 130,000sq ft Harvey Nichols store from the Burton Group in 1991 for £60 million, was taking a keen interest in the site negotiations and was pushing for a quick conclusion.

Also in the news was Etam, which announced a complete overhaul of its business, which as well as the Etam stores included Tammy Girl and Snob.

The business denied rumours that Snob’s 16 stores would be closed and absorbed into Etam as an in-store brand. Group buying director John Maynard described it as “nothing more than a rumour”.

However, in Etam group’s year-end results the previous week, it acknowledged that Snob’s sales had suffered in the first half due to its offer being too high-fashion.

Elsewhere in the issue, a feature examined the impact of the biggest seller of the season – the A-line silhouette slip dress (pictured is a version by Kookai).

As Drapers wrote: “The domination of long, easy layers is being sidelined by short, cute dresses in prints and fresh pastels. Their striking simplicity has captured the imagination of the young consumer, who has been emptying shop rails of every version as quickly as new supplies arrive.”

1969…

Retailers were to face a 0.5% levy on their payroll, reported the May 1 1969 issue of Menswear (later incorporated into Drapers), in order to contribute to the Distributive Industry Training Board (DITB).

Menswear Association of Britain director Kenneth Smith said: “There are two ways of looking at the proposals. Some retailers will regard it as simply another expense which will bear hard on margins. Others will view the proposals with some relief as relatively modest and less than they feared.”

“The latter are mostly reconciled to the fact of the DITB and in the majority of cases have at least some interest in training programmes.”

Firms with an annual payroll of less than £5,000 would be exempt from the levy.

Menswear also reported that wages deals with multiples “set new standards”, after the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) opened negotiations for a new wage agreement with the John Collier group.

This followed successful deals with the Montague Burton (now Burton) and Jackson the Tailor chains.

USDAW president RB Seabrook said: “New standards have been set in retailing in pay and conditions, union recognition, and procedures for dealing with grievances and disputes.”

The Burton deal would cost the firm an extra £250,000 a year and consolidate what was a sales commission into the basic rate of pay.

Also in this issue, Richard Lawson, sales director of Bonsoir, revealed to Drapers the results of a labour turnover survey of his staff.

He found that “girls in industry prefer to work with their own age group rather than be part of the main factory”. To keep the young women in his sewing section happy, Lawson created a special department, complete with pop music and pop posters.

The final part of this masterplan was to invite a bona fide pop star to open it, and so reggae singer and “Israelites” chart topper Desmond Dekker popped in to meet the girls (pictured).

Finally in this issue, a photo shoot highlighted the latest men’s raincoat styles, including coats by Hurst and Nicholsons (pictured).

1945…

The Combined Production and Resources Board in Washington, US, warned of a world cotton shortage in Drapers’ May 5 1945 issue.

The impending liberation of destitute millions in areas devastated by the Second World War was set to lead to a chronic shortage of textiles. Civilians in the UK, US and Canada would feel the effects.

JA Krug, chairman of the USA War Production Board, said a shortage of at least 1.25 billion yards of cotton textiles was likely. “Some of these short-supply problems may easily worsen,” he said, “and we see no easy and quick solution.

“The world cotton shortage must become increasingly acute as the liberation of enemy-occupied territories goes on in Europe and the Far East.”

With the end of the war drawing near (Germany surrendered just two days after the cover date of this issue of Drapers), the magazine was able to reveal for the first time details of V2 rocket attacks on London and southern England, which had previously been censored.

The worst incident was at a branch of Woolworths in New Cross, south London, where the store was bombed with the loss of 168 lives. The force of the explosion threw the whole store, including staff and shoppers, into the basement where they were buried beneath tons of debris.

Drapers printed a page of pictures detailing some of the attacks (see the picture gallery). These included all that remained of Ilford Manufacturing Co of Ley Street in Ilford, Essex, the site of the Woolworths store at New Cross, the clearing up at John Bodger, another store in Ilford, which suffered damage when a V2 fell 100 yards from the store front. Finally, is a window at Selfridges on Oxford Street after a taxi was blown into it.

Despite the nearing of VE Day, another news story reminded readers that austerity was still in force.

Retailer Bentleys of Abingdon Street, Blackpool, was fined £30 “for not complying with the austerity style restrictions”. Owner Miriam Bentley was fined £15 for aiding and abetting. The case “concerned 54 blouses which had an excess of pin tucking”.

1895…

A revolt by factory girls in Glasgow, sparked by some workers discarding the shawl in favour of a hat as headgear, was debated in Drapers on May 4 1895.

The reason given for the conduct of “the riotous Glasgow mill-hands” was that they could not afford to wear hats, nor did they have the time to put them on in the morning. Consequently, any factory girl who did favour a hat was accused of “apeing their betters”, and was then mobbed by the crowd.

Drapers criticised their conduct, and said such methods had never been known to secure success. However, it did admit the mill girls had their reasons and, via a reporter from the Glasgow Evening Times, “an old woman” was quoted who explained the trouble with hats.

She said: “If the masters see us wi’ hats they’ll think we’re too well off, and down will come the wages again. I don’t say they will, but they might, and that’s what thae silly fules wi’ their hats canna see.”

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