Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fashion is made to become unfashionable.

Jane Norman, the British womenswear high street retailer, fell into administration this week. Problems started to emerge when figures showed they were £140 million in debt and the brand was left in utter dismay after the exit of their Chief Executive, Saj Shah, at the end of February this year. The firm was quickly part rescued by knitwear company Edinburgh Woollen Mill. Sadly, this resulted in around 1200 job losses across the nation. But what contributed to the collapse of Jane Norman in the first place?

Of course, the nationals have their broad reasons of explanation, the main one being the downturn in the economy. Consumer spending on discretionary items has fallen in line with job security. Adding to that, the 2.5% VAT increase since January has also taken its toll on the high street. With regards to clothing in particular, the price of cotton and other raw materials have soared since last year, pushing up the prices even further on our streets. Although the above were contributing factors, it did not explain why Jane Norman was the only high street fashion firm to suffer. Hence, the answer lies within the fashion and marketing of Jane Norman.

With regards to the clothing, we were seeing similar collections every season. This lack of variety deterred customers; women felt as though they had purchased ‘the same dress, but in blue, three years ago’. For example, the signature chunky knitwear dresses, once a trend around 10 years ago were still being produced last winter.  Offering different colours in the same range can be profitable, only when within the same season or when pieces become iconic. Becoming iconic on the high street is virtually impossible. Jane Norman was also criticised for their ‘market’ style, (with slightly better quality fabrics), year on year, resulting in the tarnished image we have today.

In terms of Jane Norman’s marketing, the lack of innovation was evident. High street stores such as H&M chose designer influences from Lanvin and Stella McCartney to boost their sales. Now more than ever, customers are mixing high street with high end. Jane Norman failed to jump on the bandwagon, resulting in the easy decision for a consumer to walk into Ashish for Topshop just across the road instead. The retailer was known to have a tacky visual layout with too much stock on the shop floor. Their minimal use of mirrors to create the structure of the store felt as though parts were missing when comparing the clean, inviting mirrored front of Karen Millen next door. There seemed to always be a lack of vision or drive for the future development of the brand.
Perhaps the downfall of Jane Norman will teach other retailers the importance of creativity and originality. With some brand re-invention and knowledge of style, the firm could have been a striving success. As for thoughts on Edinburgh Woollen Mill keeping the firm half afloat, we’ll just have to wait and see how they transform poor quality clothing, poor style and a wholly poor brand.

Pictures taken from Jane Norman SS11 and AW10 portfolios.