Some of law firms’ biggest clients are fashion powerhouses—LVMH, Chanel, Arcadia Group and Primark to name just a few. The retail industry is the UK’s largest private sector and in 2019 it brought in £394 billion. The industry has shifted over the past few years, due to the rise of technology, influencer culture and the increased popularity of online shopping. The commercial relationship between fashion and law has never been so interesting to explore.
High street retail: an online future?
It seems that the high street and its future has been put under question. One of the challenges retail faces relates directly to the fact that many stores are now performing better online. Popular websites like ASOS, Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing allow for quick and easy access when it comes to shopping—all from the comfort of your home.
Due to the shift online, many retail giants with physical stores are struggling. In 2019 it was reported by Retail Research that 43 companies were failing and a further 2,051 were affected. At this point, many companies will turn to lawyers in order to receive financial advice from a legal perspective and begin a process which falls under corporate restructuring. When bakery chain Patisserie Valerie collapsed into administration last January, it stated that around 71 outlets would close as the chain did not have enough money to pay its debts. Initially, KPMG was advising the company, before the work was passed onto restructuring firm FRP Advisory in order to peruse legal claims against Grant Thornton which had audited Pat Val but had failed to identify any manipulation of accounts. CMS is currently advising Patisserie Valerie, with Osborne Clarke having provided legal advice in the past.
By and large, the high street is only doing well where business cannot be replicated online. For example, tattoo parlours, Nail and Hair Salons are thriving, but many physical stores are closing down. With consumers favouring online options such as Amazon and eBay, law firms play a role in providing advice to retailers on how to stay competitive. Selfridges is an example of a company that consistently delivers on surprising and amusing its customers. Although the luxury department store is at an advantage, being a major tourist destination popularised by hit television series Mr Selfridge, it constantly provides new campaigns and incentives to keep consumers interested. We have seen the chain capitalise on Christmas, ensuring they are staying current and interesting to both the younger and older generations. Where other department stores saw losses, Selfridges saw a full-year sales boost of 6% in 2019. Huge corporations such as Selfridges do have consistent in-house legal teams to help in providing any regulatory checks and ensuring any campaigns fully comply with UK regulations.
On the tail end, smaller boutiques and companies typically turn to law firms for financial advice, particularly in light of rising rent costs. Law firms would help ensure the business structure is not only cost-effective but also allows the business to thrive in a competitive legal market.
As the usage of online shopping evolves, many retail businesses will have to seek legal advice on how to manage their businesses online—especially in line with consumer and data protection laws. One example is Boohoo, which was bought by Karen Millen and Coast – but only their online platforms. Especially with fast fashion, online platforms are fast becoming the future. This also means that retail property will potentially see a fall and real estate lawyers will see shifts in the type of spaces retailers will need. With online platforms growing, this would mean that instead of purchasing property in the high street, spaces will most likely be warehouses. Ultimately, the high-street could potentially be rendered a thing of the past.
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