Over 5,000 jobs lost or at risk in fashion retail in France in last 18 months
The blow suffered by the French Vivarte group, with the sale of its André and Naf Naf chains, has emphasised the troubles facing fashion retail distribution, in France if not elsewhere. Trade unions fear the loss of a further 2,000 jobs as Vivarte's dismantling continues, the 17,000-employee group having already cut 1,850 jobs at some of its retail brands at the end of 2015. These figures are evidence of a drastic downsizing which is affecting the entire industry.
Some retailers, such as Kiabi, Primark, Zara and H&M are performing well and are planning to expand, but for others in France the size of the cull is frightening, with approximately 1,500 jobs lost or about to be lost over 18 months due to store closures. Banana Republic and Marks & Spencer have announced their withdrawal from France, job protection plans have been implemented at Promod (logistics), Celio , Mim, Styleco and Grain de Malice, while also Carnet de Vol, American Apparel, MS Mode and Bata are downsizing.
Industry analysts expect the list to grow, as questions have for example been asked about C&A’s future plans. Last November, in an interview to the German media, CEO Philippe Brenninkmeijer talked about a change in strategy for the retailer's 1,500 stores in Europe, putting the trade unions on high alert and eventually forcing Brenninkmeijer to revise his statement, though C&A has recently announced the closure of 28 stores in Spain and Portugal.
It is clear that fashion retailers, and not just in France, are suffering, and this reflects a change in consumption patterns which impacts store footfall. Besides extreme cases, the majority of industry players, both independent stores and chains, are gradually reducing their networks and adapting their employees' working hours, in order to deal with the situation. The social impact of this evolution appears to be much higher than mere job protection-plan figures indicate. The employees in question are generally women, with low qualifications, often with part-time jobs and isolated in small facilities, so that the overall impact is hard to assess.
The issue has so far attracted little attention from the unions, politicians and the media, but perhaps the Vivarte case in 2017 could become the symbol of a retail trade that needs protection, a high-profile issue catching the eye of all of these players.
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