Marks & Spencer has started selling an independent eco-fashion brand on its website as part of a plan to reinvigorate its struggling clothing arm.
The Nobody’s Child label bills itself as an antidote to a damaging fast-fashion industry and makes its £35 floaty minidresses and teadresses out of recycled polyester and sustainably sourced viscose. The five-year-old London company says it is “not perfect”, but “on a journey to making better decisions for the planet”.
The decision to stock outside brands is a departure for M&S, which is still the country’s biggest clothing retailer. In May, Steve Rowe, the company’s chief executive, said it would stock guest brands both online and in its largest stores as part of plan to broaden its appeal and boost online growth. In the summer M&S lost out to rival Next in the battle to operate the lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret in the UK.
The pandemic has had a huge impact on the fortunes of clothing retailers, which have had to endure a collapse in demand for office attire and party clothes. While shoppers have been slow to return to high streets and malls, websites have instead done a roaring trade in jogging bottoms and gym gear as people in Britain adapted to home-working routines.
The tilt online is having a big impact on traditional retail jobs. In August M&S said it was cutting staff numbers by 7,000, spread across its stores and head office, as it adapted to the tough market conditions. At the time, it revealed sales of clothing and homewares in its stores were running at almost half of 2019 levels.
However, even before the crisis, M&S’s clothing arm was in trouble, with sales falling for eight years straight. After a false start under Jill McDonald, a former boss of Halfords and McDonald’s who left in 2019, the division is now being run by Richard Price, who was poached from Tesco, where he ran its F&F clothing and homewares label.
Nobody’s Child was founded five years ago by Andrew Xeni, an entrepreneur whose family have a background in clothing manufacturing. The company’s backers include the New Look founder, Tom Singh.
Clive Black, an analyst at the stockbroker Shore Capital, said sales at Nobody’s Child had been growing exceptionally rapidly: “We see the brand as potentially very complementary to the core M&S offer, which is starting to find a more realistic and sustainable place in the market in our view.”