As reports emerged on Friday that Sir Philip Green’s fashion empire was preparing to appoint administrators, I was at my desk and wearing a Wallis shirt. Baby pink with black polka dots, FYI. Just a few days later and Wallis’ owner, Green’s Arcadia, did indeed collapse.
Deloitte is handling the administration and will be “rapidly seeking expressions of interest", expecting to identify one or more buyers "to ensure the future success of the businesses”. Speculation is already underway about which rivals will bid for Arcadia’s brands. Topshop is viewed as the jewel in the Arcadia crown, but online retailers and other high street chains should not dismiss Wallis.
The Wallis chain, which can trace its roots back to a stall in north London’s Chapel Market in 1923, today looks less cool than say Arcadia’s Topshop and Miss Selfridge. However, it does have an audience.
Wallis offers a good selection of smart-casual work outfits, flattering dresses for the office or the pub, and has a good range of sizes.
Part of the appeal is still, prior to the coronavirus outbreak, being able to try clothes on in store. Yes, you can buy online too, but dealing with returns is never fun.
Chloe Collins, a senior apparel analyst at GlobalData, reckons Wallis’ ranges are “outdated and lack excitement”. She also points out it has a focus on formalwear which has “left it particularly vulnerable throughout the pandemic”. However, the virus crisis will end at some point and demand for office wear will improve.
Wallis also offers clothes at a price point that isn’t too high.
Accounts for Wallis Retail Limited for the 53 weeks to September 1 2018 show it recorded sales of £129.7 million. That is lower than the £138.3 million posted for the prior year, and sales this year will have been hammered due to lockdowns. But reaching turnover of over £100 million in the year to September 2018 shows there are Wallis-loving customers out there.
Analysts at Shore Capital say many retailers may cast their eyes over the Arcadia brands. They can foresee “lots of interest” for Topshop, and add that there could be “some potential interest” for Wallis.
When non-essential retailers open from lockdown this week I will be heading to one of Wallis’ concessions, at the Pearsons department store in Enfield, to get some more work clothes. There are plenty of people that don’t want this brand to disappear.