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The decade fashion retail changed forever

As the industry prepares to welcome a new decade, Drapers looks back on the last 10 years

There are only a few days to go until the champagne and celebration of New Year’s Eve – and when the clock strikes midnight this year, we’ll wave goodbye to a dramatic decade for fashion retail.

Rewind to January 2010 and the UK was a very different place. Gordon Brown was the prime minister, Apple was celebrating the release of its first ever iPad, and the terms “influencer” and “Brexit” had yet to enter our lexicon.

It has been a seismic – and turbulent – 10 years for the industry. Today’s consumers bear little or no relation to their 2010 counterparts. They are more demanding, more knowledgeable and more price conscious than ever, and keeping up with them is a challenge.

While compiling the following timeline of key events in retail over the past 10 years, I was struck by how some things have stayed the same – high-profile acquisitions, shock people moves and Mike Ashley dominated the headlines then, as they do now. And yet, so much has changed.

Many former high street giants have disappeared, and new fashion empires have risen to the top. BHS, La Senza and Principles have vanished, and much of the old guard, such as Debenhams, House of Fraser and Arcadia Group, are fighting for their place in the future.

Online pureplays have become the new bellwethers of the industry. Over the last decade, Asos and Boohoo have become household names and – alongside the retail phenomenon that is Amazon – they have revolutionised customer expectations around choice, fulfilment and price.

Given how completely it has taken over many people’s lives, it is easy to forget that social media barely existed at the start of the decade.

Instagram was founded in October 2010 and has since become a force in fashion – allowing bedroom brands to connect to large audiences with little or no budget, and bringing influencers to the fore. As we approach the end of the decade, social media continues to evolve at a lightning-quick pace and consumers are experimenting with newer platforms such as Twitch and TikTok.

One hope for the new decade is that fashion can learn from past mistakes and become a force for good. At the start of the 2010, most brands barely paid lip service to sustainability, and only the most conscious of consumers cared about the environmental and social impact of clothing production. It is only in the last 18 months or so that sustainability has become a hot topic for businesses and shoppers alike.

We are still at the beginning of the industry’s journey to become greener and more ethical. Scrutiny is necessary to ensure retailers and brand live up to the public promises they are now making, but the first steps are being taken.

The #MeToo movement has been another strong cultural force that has affected fashion retail. Revelations about the workplace culture at some companies, including Arcadia Group and Ted Baker, underlined a new intolerance of bullying or inappropriate behaviour from senior leaders. Going forwards, the industry needs to be a welcoming, inclusive place for everyone.

The fashion industry will face many more challenges over the next decade, but there is also plenty of opportunity to grab with both hands as we enter 2020. Here’s to the next decade and all it brings.



Flip back through the decade’s first issue of Drapers magazine – 9 January 2010 – and retailers were celebrating a cracking Christmas as the iron grip of the recession began to fade. However, the party was short lived for some, as Britain froze in weeks of heavy snowfall.

The first year of the new decade brought sad news for the fashion industry. Designer Lee Alexander McQueen was found dead at his London home on 11 February, the same day the brand been due to show the autumn 10 collection from his McQ label at New York Fashion Week. Industry figures, including Sir Paul Smith, then Matchesfashion owner Tom Chapman and Browns founder Joan Burstein paid their respects to the visionary designer.

Rising labour costs in China and cotton price hikes led to a supply chain crisis that dominated headlines throughout the year.

The digital revolution started in earnest in 2010. Selfridges, H&M and Zara all launched transactional websites this year, and Net-a-Porter, which launched in 2000, announced it would launch menswear spin-off Mr Porter.

This was also the year that Net-a Porter founder Natalie Massenet sold her share of the business to luxury goods conglomerate Richemont in a deal that valued the etailer at £30m.

Kate middleton wedding dress


The fashion industry’s eyes turned to Westminster Abbey on 29 April 2011 to see which designer had been chosen to design the wedding dress of the Duchess of Cambridge – better known then as Kate Middleton. It was revealed to be Sarah Burton, creative director of Alexander McQueen, who was appointed in May 2010, who created the intricately embroidered lace gown.

Proving some things never change, both Mike Ashley and Philip Day hit the headlines. Day’s Edinburgh Woollen Mill acquired Jane Norman in June and in July, Ashley acquired an 80% stake in young fashion retailer USC.

Shopping centre Westfield Stratford City opened its doors for the first time in September this year, welcoming 160,000 shoppers on its first day of trading.

London olympic games

Naomi Campbell at the London 2012 Olympics 


All eyes were on London in 2012, as the capital played host to the Olympic Games. Fashion superstars including Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Lily Cole hit the catwalk as part of the event’s closing ceremony in August.

There was plenty of change atop of luxury fashion houses – Heidi Slimane was announced as creative director of Yves Saint Laurent in March and Raf Simons was named as John Galliano’s successor at Dior in April. Nicolas Ghesquière also departed Balenciaga in November.

The British Fashion Council launched its first menswear-specific event – then known as London Collections: Men – in June this year.

The year ended with the news that Sir Philip Green had sold a 25% stake in Topshop/Topman to private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners in a £2bn deal.

Rana plaza disaster

The Rana Plaza disaster 


The Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh dominated the headlines throughout 2013. At least 1,132 people died and 2,500 were injured after the eight-storey factory collapsed on April 24. Labels from high street names including Primark and Mango were found amongst the rubble. Retailers later committed to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh in the wake of the tragedy.

Elsewhere, designer Marc Jacobs left Louis Vuitton in October after 16 years at the brand, to focus on his own label.

Primark made a short-lived foray on to Asos, and launched a selection of product on the etailer in June. However, it swiftly ended the partnership in September.


Sports Direct’s long-running saga with Debenhams began this year, after it acquired its first 4.63% stake in the department store in January 2014.

Having launched in 2006, etailer Boohoo floated on the London Stock Exchange in February, and was valued at £560m.

House of Fraser was also in the news. In March, the department store was sold to Chinese luxury chain Nanjing Xinjiekou for around £480m.

Victims of the Rana Plaza disaster received the first tranche of compensation. All workers present at the time of the collapse received BDT50,000 (£386) each in April.

In people moves, Stacey Cartwright became chief executive of Harvey Nichols in February, and Next group product director Christos Angelides departed for Abercrombie & Fitch, after almost three decades, in June. Mark Sebba, the popular chief executive of Net-a-Porter, stepped down in July. 

David cameron

Former prime minister David Cameron


In the start of what was to become one of the decade’s biggest retail stories, Sir Philip Green sold BHS to Dominic Chappell’s Retail Acquisitions for £1 in March.

David Cameron’s Conservative Party won a general election in May and Ed Miliband resigned as leader of the Labour Party.

Primark made its first foray in the US in September, unveiling a 77,300 sq ft store in Boston.

Natalie Massenet made a shock exit from Net-a-Porter, resigning as executive chairman just one month before the luxury specialist completed its merger with Italian etailer Yoox.

Sports Direct was back in the headlines amid allegations of poor treatment and hourly pay rates below the minimum wage at its Shirebrook warehouse. Pressure on the retailer intensified as it become the subject of debate about the allegations in the House of Commons.

Bhs closing down in ashford 2

BHS collapsed into administration in 2016


In the spring of 2016, the BHS scandal kick off in earnest. It collapsed into administration after owner Retail Acquisitions’ last-ditch attempt to secure emergency funding failed in April. Up to 11,000 people lost their jobs as a result and the business left behind a £571m pension deficit.

Austin Reed also entered administration in April, before being bought by Philip Day’s Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group.

There was yet more bad news for Sports Direct and Mike Ashley, who was hauled in front of parliamentary committee to face the music over poor warehouse working conditions in June.

The same month, the fashion industry was left reeling from the outcome of the Brexit referendum. On 23 June, 51.9% of British voters decided in favour of leaving the European Union. Fashion bosses called for a calm, pragmatic approach to the seismic implications of the decision.

In October, Paula Nickolds was appointed managing director of John Lewis, replacing Andy Street.


Christopher Bailey


The UK clothing sector came under intense scrutiny at the start of 2017. Suppliers told Drapers that stronger regulation was needed to wipe out unscrupulous practices following a Dispatches documentary that alleged poor treatment in Leicester factories.

Boohoo Group’s acquisition of troubled US retailer Nasty Gal was completed in February.

There were some big people moves throughout the year. The White Company lured Mary Homer away from her role as managing director of Topshop after 10 years in March. But perhaps the biggest upset was the news in October that Christopher Bailey would leave his post as president and chief executive of Burberry.

August heralded a very special birthday: Drapers celebrated its 130th anniversary.

In September, Matchesfashion founders Tom and Ruth Chapman agreed to sell the luxury business they founded in 1987 to Apax Partners for a rumoured £800m.

Hobbs was sold to The Foschini Group, owner of Whistles and Phase Eight, for an undisclosed sum in November.

Philip green 2008

Sir Philip Green


2018 will be remembered by those in retail as the year of the company voluntary arrangement (CVA). New Look kicked the trend off in March when it announced proposals to reduce its UK store estate and slash rent costs using the controversial process. In May, House of Fraser revealed it would follow New Look’s lead and launch a CVA the following month.

In June, Mothercare creditors gave the green light for its CVA plans in June, under which 50 stores faced closure.

House of Fraser was back in the headlines with a bang in August, when it was bought out of administration in a pre-pack deal by Sport Direct.

In October, Sir Philip Green was unmasked in parliament as the previously anonymous UK businessman facing allegations of bullying, racism and sexual harassment.

The year rounded off with the news that Ted Baker founder Ray Kelvin would take a leave of absence from the business following claims of inappropriate behaviour with staff.



The slew of retail CVAs showed no signs of slowing down – in May, creditors approved Debenhams’ proposals, paving the way for 22 store closures.

In August, fast fashion giant Boohoo acquired the online business and intellectual property rights of premium womenswear brands Karen Millen and Coast for £18.2m in a pre-pack deal.

Sports Direct-owned luxury chain Flannels unveiled its £10m flagship on London’s Oxford Street in September. The 18,000 sq ft four-storey luxury store was three years in the making.

The same month, the extent of the challenges facing the Arcadia Group were revealed. It reported an operating loss of £138m for the 53 weeks to 1 September 2018, and admitted it could require additional funding to deliver its turnaround plans.

November brought the news that Mothercare is set to disappear from the UK high street. It appointed administrators for its UK business, which will be wound down by February. The decision resulted in 79 store closures and 2,500 redundancies. However, the business has signed an exclusive franchise deal with Boots UK. The Mothercare product range will be made available in larger Boots stores across the UK, including Mothercare shop-in-shops over time, as well as online at The proposed partnership will be for an initial period of five years. 

The Conservative Party secured their biggest win since the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1987, securing 43.6% of the UK votes.


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