Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

What next for Marks & Spencer?

Marks and Spencer has been struggling to revive the fortunes of its beleaguered fashion division
Marks and Spencer has been struggling to revive the fortunes of its beleaguered fashion division

Fashion is a fickle business, as we all know – but like any other business, fashion depends on strong and consistently imaginative input.

Competition is increasingly intense between discounters like Primark, department stores and supermarket chains who want to flog clothes as well as groceries to their customers.

Marks & Spencer has repeatedly suffered criticism and falling sales over its fashion offering. If their standard issue jumpers and frocks aren't being derided for frumpiness, it is criticised for limiting the sale of some desirable items – such as 2013's must-have pink coat – to certain stress.

What's rubbed salt in the M&S wound has been the growing market share of Next, a clothing chain once dismissed as a humdrum feature of the high street – but now receiving increasing acclaim as well as growing sales figures for its clothes, as well as growing sales figures.

Earlier this year Next announced record annual profits of £695m, beating M&S for the first time. But Next is facing a tense time after the resignation of a top fashion executive who has helped the firm grow over the last three decades.

To make matters worse, product director Christos Angelides is leaving a totem of the British high street to join American youth fashion behemoth Abercrombie & Fitch.

Shares at the FTSE 100 company fell 1% after Mr Angelides' defection was announced. He is the second director to signal his departure, with finance director David Keens announcing in May that he is to leave next year.

Could it be that Mr Angelides and Mr Keens are ready for a new challenge after bringing Next towards its great success?

For Mr Angelides, there is a big change in store at Abercrombie. From Next, which sells kids, men's and women's wear, he will be president of A&F's children's brands, a newly-created role.

Next said: "Christos has made a huge contribution to the group in his 28 years of service and the board wish him success in his future endeavours."

No doubt Angelides' will be tough boots to fill – but Next will not relinquish its position at the top of the fashion stakes without a fight.

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