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“Challenging times” for Northern fashion brands: Is the heyday over?


The legacy and success of online fashion brands based in the North has been undeniable, home to the likes of JD Sports, Boohoo and N Brown Group. But with the release of trading updates this month, have some of these big fashion giants finally hit a wall?

Business was booming for many online retailers back in 2020, although the high street was left derelict, consumers embraced online shopping to get their fashion haul fixes instead. 

When lockdowns eased, a new battle emerged as the cost of living crisis reared its head. As shoppers tighten the purse strings, online retailers are starting to feel the pinch too. 

“With the backdrop of low consumer confidence, rising inflation and the prospect of tough times ahead, the clothing and footwear sector has been hit hard by the cost of living crisis,” Catherine Shuttleworth, retail analyst and founder of Leeds-based Savvy Marketing, told Prolific North.

“All businesses headquartered in the North are feeling a wind of change from consumers but there are winners and losers in the pack.”

Online fast fashion retailer Boohoo group, which has a portfolio of brands including PrettyLittleThing and Dorothy Perkins, warned of a dip in revenues by 11% for the four months to 31st December, reporting £637.7m, down from £714.5m in the same period last year. Although the online fashion group launched a sustainability strategy, the rise of the conscious consumer could be having an impact.

“Online fast fashion retailers like Boohoo are seeing a slow down in sales driven by their shoppers’ lifestyles and attitudes really changing,” said Shuttleworth. 



“Their shoppers are really considering sustainability in the way they shop and using resellers such as Vinted as their first port of call both as sellers and buyers. This combined with less time spent eating, drinking and partying out of the home means that their shoppers are spending less with them and spending elsewhere.”

Despite Boohoo’s results, JD Sports reported a strong trading period over the festive season. The retail and online sportswear giant, headquartered in Bury with around 1,500 staff, has set trends with its results. The group expects group profits before tax for the year to 28 January to range from £933m to £985m and is eyeing just over £1bn for the year to 3 February 2024.

“JD Sports have seen really strong results as younger shoppers have gone back to the high street and are prepared to buy brands that are of value to them in an environment that they enjoy spending time in.

“A move to more casual wear driven by at home working, nights in with your mates not nights out means that JD is in a sweet spot for shoppers.”

For Sosandar, an online fashion brand in Cheshire launched by Ali Hall and Julie Lavington, it has already been a great start to the year. Sosandar signed a lucrative partnership with Sainsbury’s this week and the womenswear digital retailer reported a profitable six-months in December, following a 72 per cent uptick in revenues. 

Sosandar’s co-founders

“We are also seeing brands working with retailers to extend their reach and using their ecom platforms – Sosander have recently announced that they will be working with Sainsbury’s clothing brand TU as they have already done with M&S as part of their strategy to drive revenue.”

Listed digital retailer N Brown Group, which has a portfolio of brands including JD Williams and Simply Be, recently reported “solid trading in a tough trading environment” in the 18 weeks to December 31. Group revenue dropped 7.6% year-on-year to £249.2m. 

With the release of the results, Chief Executive Steve Johnson said customers “continue to be more cautious” with spending and although N Brown Group is cautious about the macro environment over the next 12 months, the group remains “confident in the resilience” of its business alongside the “strategic investments” it is making long-term.

Last year, the group announced it was focusing its growth on three of its strategic brands: JD Williams, Simply Be and Jacamo.

Although the heyday isn’t over yet for the North’s hub of online fashion brands, it’s set to be a difficult year to navigate amid the global economic pressures and evolving consumer shopping habits.

Shuttleworth added: “These are challenging times for clothing retailers based here in the North, after the buoyant market they enjoyed through lockdowns, now they have to readjust their operations to deal with a changed consumer – there will be winners and losers.”

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