Apr 17, 2020
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River Island’s Harpenne womenswear brand ceases trading

Apr 17, 2020

As the Covid-19 crisis continues, brands that aren’t securely established will have a tough time surviving, even if they’re owned by big names. So it was no surprise to learn that the River Island-backed Harpenne brand has been axed.


Former Next, M&S and George at Asda brand and product development exec Fiona Lambert had launched the womenswear label last year for the AW19 season. The financing was from the deep-pocketed River Island parent company, but the label has now ceased trading. 

The label mixed classic styles with a trend edge for an older customer than River Island is used to serving and consequently tapped into the rich seam of consumers also being targeted by labels such as Sosandar and Mint Velvet. The latter label is also controlled by River Island’s founding family trust, The Lewis Trust Group, but is in a better position having built up a strong customer base in its eight-year history, as well as multiple stores, concessions and websites.

Harpenne, which also answered the increasingly ethical thinking of its customers with a focus on ethical sourcing, had suspended its webstore on the onset of the coronavirus crisis. But it has now said that it’s closing for good as “the UK retail backdrop continues to be challenging, and this is clearly not an easy time to create and grow a new brand”.

The products can still be bought for now on the Next website, although it’s unclear when delivery will happen given that the site has only reopened for kidswear and homewares for now. It was also stocked by John Lewis but no Harpenne product is currently listed on its website.

Analyst Sofie Willmott of GlobalData said that survival would have been difficult for Harpenne. She said it was “still in its infancy and yet to build a loyal customer base. With well-established clothing brands including Oasis, Warehouse, Cath Kidston and Laura Ashley already victims of the Covid-19 crisis, their smaller and lesser-known equivalents are under immense pressure and are at risk of not surviving the next few months as demand for clothing & footwear continues to plummet.

“Operating as an online pureplay as well as stocking its range on Next and John Lewis & Partners’ sites, Harpenne’s closure is evidence that selling via the online channel is not enough to safeguard retailers. Although online clothing & footwear spend will be better protected as non-essential stores remain closed, we still expect it to decline 7.9% this year when retailers have previously been able to rely on digital channels for growth.”

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