As another tumultuous year draws to a close, Drapers takes a look back at the biggest stories of the 2017.
Despite a gloomy forecast, a strong festive season got the New Year off to a flying start. As the Christmas trading updates began to roll in, many retailers had cause to celebrate. Etailers led the way – sales at Boohoo and Asos were up 52% and 30% respectively in the last four months of 2016 – while Reiss, Joules, Primark and Ted Baker all recorded healthy double-digit sales growth.
However, the mood quickly soured. The UK clothing sector came under intense scrutiny after a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation alleged that workers in some subcontracted Leicester factories were being paid less than half the minimum wage, and were also being exposed to unsafe working conditions. Factories named by Channel 4 were found producing products for New Look, River Island, Boohoo and Missguided. The government and the industry were urged to issue a ”hard-hitting, uncompromising response” to the allegations, but concerned Drapers commenters flagged consumers’ reluctance to pay more and the impact of this unwillingness on ethical sourcing.
Amazon’s foray into own-label fashion began to hit the headlines in February, after the tech heavyweight poached design and buying experts from Marks & Spencer and Primark. It was a good month for the H&M group, which started its march on Regent Street after confirming it would open the first UK Weekday store on the shopping hotspot, and for Boohoo, which completed its deal for troubled American etailer Nasty Gal.
There was less good news for the Arcadia Group, which suffered the beginning of some high-profile departures. Topshop/Topman retail director Craig McGregor left for Specsavers and group veteran Wesley Taylor left his role as managing director of Burton after ten years at the business. Miss Selfridges’s creative director Yasmin Yusuf also left for pastures new.
Towards the end of the month, there was a shake-up at premium brand Reiss after Christos Angelides was named chief executive in a “planned succession process”. Founder David Reiss remained as chairman and Angelides’ appointment was welcomed by the industry.
And to round off the month, Sir Philip Green made a voluntary contribution of £363m to settle the BHS pension scheme deficit.
Administrations were the hot topic in March, particularly in the crowded and competitive world of footwear. Value retailer Brantano was placed into administration and Jones Bootmaker teetered on the edge before being bought by private equity firm Endless in a pre-pack deal.
Elsewhere, House of Fraser slashed its womenswear department, cutting between 30 and 40 third-party womenswear brands in a move to simplify its offer. Executive chairman Frank Selvin also revealed his five-year plan for the department store, arguing it needed to become a ”disruptor” to survive.
At John Lewis, new managing director Paula Nickolds set out her vision for the retailer this month. This included increasing in-house brands and focusing on one-on-one customer service.
H&M revealed plans to add to its growing stable of brands with the launch of new menswear, womenswear, menswear and kidswear brand Arket.
There was also more big Arcadia news. At the end of the month, longstanding Topshop managing director Mary Homer left to join The White Company. Homer had spent three decades at Topshop, including ten years as managing director, and she oversaw its rise to the epitome of high street cool.
The spring months brought with them more unhappy retail news, as Jaeger fell into administration. Once the retailer of choice for affluent high street customers, and known for high-quality, classic pieces, the business had battled falling sales and widening operating losses for some time. AlixPartners were appointed as administrators on 10 April and, by the middle of the month, Jager had axed jobs and closed stores. There were also job losses at Clarks in April after it made redundancies at its Somerset headquarters.
In slightly happier news, Asos reported soaring sales and profits, but even there, the picture was not entirely positive, as chief executive Nick Beighton warned of “unprecedented” pressure on consumer spending.
There was also another new department store boss outlining plans for success, as new chief executive Sergio Bucher unveiled his strategy for Debenhams. The former Amazon Fashion boss has ambitious plans to add £1bn to topline sales by focusing on experiential retail and digital growth.
After almost two years’ work, Farfetch was ready to reveal its innovative “Store of the Future” project to the world.
There were people moves aplenty in May. The month kicked off with the appointment of former Halfords chief executive Jill McDonald to the newly created role of managing director of clothing, beauty and home at Marks & Spencer. House of Fraser also looked outside of fashion for its new boss, naming Alex Williamson, former chief executive of sporting group Goodwood, as CEO.
Mid-month, CEO Beth Butterwick outlined her three-pronged strategy for growth at Karen Millen, which included bringing product back to the “heartland” of the brand, carrying out a store review and speeding up processes.
Jaeger found a new lease of life with Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group’s department store concept, Days. ewm is understood to have bought the Jaeger brand name and debt shortly before it collapsed, and the first Days department store opened in Carmarthen in May.
This month Burberry, also announced it had moved 300 jobs to a new office in Leeds to in a cost-cutting plan.
June brought with it a summer heatwave, as the UK basked in 30-degree heat. The outlook was less sunny at the Arcadia Group, where long-awaited accounts revealed pre-tax profits had plummeted 79% to £36.7m following the collapse of BHS, in which Arcadia previously had 307 concessions.
The start of the summer also heralded the general election, which ended in a hung parliament after sitting prime minster Theresa May failed to win an outright majority. Concerned retailers reiterated the need for clarity, stability and decisiveness from the government around Brexit.
In another pre-pack administration deal, Style Group Brands, which includes Jacques Vert, Eastex, Precis and Dash, was sold to a subsidiary of Calvetron Style Holdings, resulting in the loss of 272 jobs and the closure of 17 UK stores.
Manchester’s fast fashion brands rallied round to support victims of the terror attack that killed 22 people in the city the previous month. Boohoo launched a range of T-shirts inspired by the city and all profits were donated to the We Love Manchester campaign.
The month kicked off with good news for British manufacturing, as Clarks announced a new Somerset facility capable of producing 300,000 pairs of its Desert Boots every year. It will create up to 80 technical and managerial jobs.
In people moves, Very Exclusive leader Sarah Curran left Shop Direct and the Arcadia Group appointed Paul Price, chief merchandising officer at Burberry, to lead Topshop/Topman. Dune CEO John Egan stepped down to take a non-executive director position at the footwear retailer, while there were also redundancy consultancies at House of Fraser as it sought to streamline its business.
Over at Marks & Spencer, a confident Steve Rowe promised like-for-like clothing and home sales would be back in growth before the end of its financial year in March 2018. The confident chief executive said M&S had stripped out promotions and that turnaround plans were on track, but warned consumer confidence remained volatile.
Fears grew for womenswear etailer Avenue 32 at the start of August, weeks after it put itself up for sale. The etailer cancelled orders and returned stock to brands before confirming its closure later in the month.
The debate over how to eradicate poor employment practices in factories began to hot up after New Look’s then chief executive Anders Kristiansen told Drapers the business wanted to do more manufacturing in the UK but was concerned about ethics. Asos’s Nick Beighton agreed, adding that he had put volume behind producing more in the UK but needed support from the government and industry bodies.
There was another addition to Topshop/Topman’s senior team as David Haggland was appointed to the newly created role of creative director.
The Jaeger story continued to play out, as the brand relaunched for autumn 17 with plans to open more standalone stores with a renewed emphasis on its heritage
H&M’s new lifestyle concept Arket moved onto Regent Street.
August also marked a very special occasion: Drapers’ 130th birthday.
As summer turned to autumn, the people move carousel continued to spin. A series of disappointing results spelt the end of New Look’s Anders Kristiansen’s time in the top job. Suzanne Harlow’s departure from Debenhams was announced as the business restructured and the group trading director role was axed. Ted Baker’s second in command, global retailer director Chris Browne, left the retailer after almost thirty years. And finally, former Shop Direct deputy chief executive Gareth Jones was hired by Missguided as CEO of online, as founder Nittin Passi became group CEO.
Elsewhere in September, Brantano shuttered its last remaining UK store and young fashion brand Lipsy made the decision to cease trading from its own website from January, choosing instead to focus on own stores and online sales via Asos and Next.
Tom and Ruth Chapman, the husband-and-wife team who founded Matchesfashion, agreed to sell the luxury fashion retailer to Apax Partners for a reported £800m.
Mild and dry weather throughout October put paid to many retailers’ hopes of getting the autumn season off to a bang.
John Lewis unveiled its all-singing, all-dancing experience-led store at the new Westgate Oxford centre, and the retailer’s fashion buying director Christine Kasoulis declared the age of fast fashion over, as customers focus on buying less, but well.
Iconic London department store Liberty opened its revamped womenswear department, marking the end of a comprehensive regeneration project.
But the biggest story of the month was undoubtedly the news that Burberry president and chief creative officer Christopher Bailey is to leave the business in 2018. Bailey has worked at the British luxury fashion house for 16 years, taking the reins as CEO and chief creative officer in 2014. Industry insiders expressed little surprise at the news.
Shop Direct’s Alex Baldock was also off to pastures new, announcing his plans to leave the etail group next summer.
Redundancies dominated the headlines in November. The Arcadia Group proposed plans to make several head office roles redundant; Pentland Brands, which owns labels including Speedo, Berghaus and Boxfresh, said it would make up to 100 redundancies; and Mothercare entered into a consultation with staff to cut 200 head office roles.
Hobbs’ sale to the owner of, Whistles, Phase Eight and Damsel in a Dress, TFG London, provided a bright spot among the gloomy news. Meg Lustman, chief executive of Hobbs, said the deal would help the premium womenswear brand to “go further, faster”.
As has become tradition, the end of the month was dominated by Black Friday. Online prevailed over the high street, but more retailers joined in the discounting this year – Next chose to run its first-ever Black Friday Sale, bringing forward product earmarked for its Boxing Day event.
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The start of the festive season kicked off with Black Friday hangover “Back Friday”, as returns from regretful shoppers peaked on 1 December – nearly one-fifth of British shoppers were expected to return online goods bought over the promotional period.
Crew Clothing, which has 80 UK stores, was sold to US wholesaler Exquisite Apparel and CEO Louise Barnes quit the business.
Drapers revealed Liverpool-based etailer Shop Direct, which owns brands such as Very and Littlewoods, has been making redundancies and culling roles as part of a wider restructuring. And in one of the year’s final big people moves, Topman global digital director Gareth Rees-John moved to Arcadia stablemate Miss Selfridge as multichannel director.