What really killed this Aussie fashion icon

 

Whichever way you look at it, it's been an annus horribilis for many big name retailers.

In 2019, we witnessed the collapse of a slew of Aussie favourites, with some international players also folding in recent months.

In January, menswear retailer Ed Harry went into voluntary administration, and a week later, Aussie sportswear favourite Skins also revealed it was on the brink of failure after applying for bankruptcy in a Swiss court.

At the end of the month, the Napoleon Perdis beauty empire announced the cult make-up chain's 56 Aussie stores had closed for stocktake. Administrators were appointed, and scores of stores have since collapsed.

Footwear trailblazer Shoes of Prey also met its demise in March this year, along with British fashion giant Karen Millen, which in September revealed it would soon shut all Aussie stores, leaving around 80 jobs in peril.

Stylerunner was saved after being bought by Accent Group. Picture: Supplied
Stylerunner was saved after being bought by Accent Group. Picture: Supplied

In October, celebrity chef Shannon Bennett's Melbourne burger chain Benny Burger was also placed into administration followed by seven Red Rooster outlets in Queensland just days later and then Aussie activewear sensation Stylerunner, which has since been sold to Accent Group Limited.

Just weeks ago it was revealed that popular furniture and homewares company Zanui had collapsed after it abruptly entered voluntary administration, leaving some angry customers in the lurch.

In November, Muscle Coach, a leading fitness company, was put into voluntary administration after a director received a devastating diagnosis and the company racked up debts of almost $1 million.

Then it was the famous Criniti's restaurant chain's turn to enter into voluntary administration, with several of the 13 sites across the country set to be closed for good.

It was closely followed by discount legend Dimmeys and then Co-op Bookshop, which went into administration owing $15 million.

And just weeks ago fast-fashion staple Bardot also went into voluntary administration, blaming a "highly cluttered" and "increasingly discount-driven market", followed by Australian department store Harris Scarfe, which was placed into voluntary administration in mid-December.

A number of Criniti’s restaurant are now set for closure. Picture: Steve Tyson
A number of Criniti’s restaurant are now set for closure. Picture: Steve Tyson

 

So where did it all go wrong for these iconic companies - and what does 2020 hold for our struggling retail sector?

SIGN OF THE TIMES
According to Queensland University of Technology retail expert Dr Gary Mortimer, there are two main factors that caused the downfall of many businesses in 2019 - changing consumer tastes and "overcrowded, hyper-competitive markets".

And in the case of fashion brands like Bardot and Ed Harry, Dr Mortimer said they usually had one thing in common - no point of difference.

Popular women’s fashion brand Bardot announced it had gone into voluntary administration in late November. Picture: Facebook/Bardot
Popular women’s fashion brand Bardot announced it had gone into voluntary administration in late November. Picture: Facebook/Bardot

That means they have struggled to stand out from the crowd and compete with both Aussie retailers and big international players like Zara and H & M when it comes to "mass produced fast fashion at a 'middle market' price".

"It's almost the perfect storm - no point of difference, a decline in discretionary spending, the entrance of global fast-fashion retailers dominating the space and, of course, relentless discounting, which simply erodes profits," he told news.com.au.

Dr Mortimer said the fashion decline began around 2017 when David Lawrence, Marcs, Rhodes & Beckett, Herringbone, Topshop, Oroton, Maggie T, Diana Ferrari, Gap Australia, Esprit Australia, Metalicus, Forever 21 and Laura Ashley all closed within two years.

Zanui is also facing an uncertain future.
Zanui is also facing an uncertain future.

He said Skins and Stylerunner also likely felt the pinch of the highly competitive "athleisure" market, which had taken off in recent years.

When it comes to the food industry, Dr Mortimer said the growth of fast casual dining and changing tastes - and a focus on new and more exotic cuisines - was hurting restaurateurs. He said Criniti's and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's Italian chain, which suffered in 2018, had likely been affected as tastes had changed since the 1990s when Italian cuisine ruled and was still something of a novelty.

Sadly, Dr Mortimer predicts more retail pain in 2020, with the middle menswear market tipped to be particularly hard hit.

He expects to see the announcement of more Big W store closures next year and said the expansion of Target into fashion could affect other retailers, as it had the capital to succeed.


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