Harpenne, a fashion brand backed by River Island, has announced that it will close permanently. Launched last year by former Next, Marks & Spencer, and George at Asda executive Fiona Lambert, Harpenne targeted an older demographic than River Island’s usual customer base, offering classic styles with a trend-led twist. However, the brand struggled to establish itself and compete with well-established brands like Sosandar and Mint Velvet.

Mint Velvet, controlled by The Lewis Trust Group, the founding family trust of River Island, has successfully built a strong customer base over its eight-year history. In contrast, Harpenne was not able to thrive in a similar way and faced challenges in a highly competitive market.

Aside from appealing to an older customer base, Harpenne also aimed to attract ethically conscious consumers through its focus on ethical sourcing. However, the brand was forced to suspend its webstore due to the impact of the Covid-19 crisis, which further hindered its growth. In light of the challenging retail landscape in the UK, Harpenne has made the difficult decision to permanently close the brand.

While Harpenne products are still available for purchase on the Next website, delivery times remain uncertain as the website has only reopened for kidswear and homewares at the moment. John Lewis, another retailer that stocked Harpenne products, currently does not list any of the brand’s items on its website.

Industry analysts have noted that Harpenne’s struggle for survival would have been challenging even without the impact of the Covid-19 crisis. With established brands like Oasis, Warehouse, Cath Kidston, and Laura Ashley already succumbing to the current retail climate, smaller and lesser-known brands are under immense pressure and at risk of not surviving in the coming months. Additionally, the decline in demand for clothing and footwear has exacerbated the situation for fashion brands.

The closure of Harpenne highlights the limitations of relying solely on online sales to ensure retailer survival. While online clothing and footwear spend is expected to fare better during the closure of non-essential stores, it is still projected to decline by 7.9% this year. This decline is significant, considering that digital channels have previously been a source of growth for retailers.

Harpenne’s closure underscores the challenges fashion brands face in the current turbulent retail climate. The Covid-19 crisis has made it clear that having financial backing and big names supporting a brand does not guarantee immunity from market difficulties. The industry must adapt and innovate to not only survive but also thrive in these uncertain times.

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