Time Out Melbourne

The humble high street home brand is under serious threat as heavyweight chains from Europe, the US and Japan continue their invasion

Australian retailers could be in big trouble. The influx of overseas high-street brands has coincided with the rise in popularity of online shopping – "I got it on ASOS!" – to create a perfect storm of trouble for local players in the fashion market.

And that's despite a lot of help from the government. In mid-May, BRW reported that Lisa Ho Designs had gone into administration, despite the company having taken almost $200,000 in taxpayer subsidies. The money was part of the federal government's six-year $112.5 million programme, the Clothing and Household Textile (Building Innovative Capability) scheme from 2009, which was designed to foster "the development of a sustainable and internationally competitive clothing and household textile manufacturing and design industry in Australia."

Ho wasn't the only one to drink from the well without a great deal of success: Fairfax reported that Aussie label Ojay took some $20,000 before going into administration. All this as Topshop and Zara set up to great fanfare and H&M, Uniqlo and the rest circle. And then there's ASOS. The company's sales were up 40 per cent in the first half of the 2012-13 financial year and, according to reports, Australia is its largest foreign market. Apparently, Australian shoppers buy something from ASOS every six seconds. For local retailers, the pressure is on. Let’s have a look at what they’re up against this year…


No-frills clothing from Japan will launch across 25 stores in 2014

Plain dressers, rejoice! Japanese fashion giant Uniqlo is coming to Australia. They’ve been sniffing around for floorspace in major cities for a couple of years, but recent news predicts a huge roll-out of 40,000 square metres of quality, well-fitted basics across 25 stores in 2014.

The company kicked off in 1985 but expanded out to New York, Hong Kong and Seoul in 2005, becoming a stalwart for clean, classic clothes with no frills. With that much retailing space, Uniqlo could soon dominate the mid-range fashion market – better quality than big box stores, cheaper than General Pants and Industrie, and more dependable than American Apparel.

Awareness is building here. In April, Sunrise’s David Koch cheered the University Of Queensland for sponsoring Novak Djokovic until he was hounded on Twitter that the tennis star was actually sporting a Uniqlo logo. They also sponsor Aussie golf sensation Adam Scott and they have kitted out Japanese summer and winter Olympic teams.

Uniqlo’s arrival in Australia could see the demise of dadcore fits for the average bloke, tamp down kooky women’s wear, and end Bonds’ stranglehold on the tees, hoodies and sweats market.


After testing the water in Bondi, the US retailer has set its sights on Chapel Street

Oprah’s favourite things, Sex And the City’s “top-of-the-line cheese grater”, Monica from Friends’ best pot – you can grab it all at Williams-Sonoma.

The kitchenware and furnishings retailer has opened its first outlet outside the US last month, slapping together the high-end Williams-Sonoma flagship brand with subsidiaries Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids and modern homewares adjunct west elm at the new, triple-level Exchange Building in Bondi Junction.

They’ve also got eyes on a Chapel Street location, likely taking over the old Politix spot next to Bridie O’Reilly’s with a west elm store in the second half of 2013.

Williams-Sonoma has become a running gag in US pop culture as an exemplar of slightly snooty and useless kitchen geegaws and expensive throw-rugs. Couples on American Dad, Frasier, and Weeds have all “registered at Williams-Sonoma”. Pottery Barn’s similar range is less pricey (see: ‘Barn’ in the name). By all accounts west elm’s furniture is slightly more chic and considerably more expensive than IKEA.

They’re expanding to Australia because almost half of their business comes from online sales, and Australia is the world’s second-largest e-commerce market. Why not try that accent table and grapefruit lavender hand soap before you buy?

River Island

Taking baby steps into the Aussie market, the British fashion retailer has launched an official website for shoppers down under

It’s not quite Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, and it’s not exactly Clueless, either. But with fashion collections ranging from high school burnouts and goths to varsity jocks, dreamers and sassy bitches, we get the impression that River Island’s design team has been indulging in a ’90s movie marathon. Those are not the real names of the store’s collections; they’re more like ‘Pacific’ and ‘Noir’, but with knee-high leather boots, Hawaiian prints, sports jerseys, head-to-toe neon and washed-out pastels à la Miami Vice, it seems RI is covering their bases with a style to match every Hollywood high school cliché.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Time Out was invited to admire the collection at the UK brand’s tiptoe launch towards opening a physical store somewhere in Australia. On June 5 an Australian website, au.riverisland.com, was launched including the store’s latest collaboration with Rihanna, (the second of a planned four ranges designed by the Barbadian singer… best worn with a raised middle finger).

A limited River Island range has been available in Australia through ASOS since 2011, and marketing director Josie Roscop tells Time Out that it has been the website’s best-selling brand. Roscop wasn’t prepared to reveal any likely locations for the first Australian flagship, but she tells us they’ve been assessing the market for a while and “the senior team have been looking at prominent high street sites” both in Melbourne and Sydney.

So what does the website launch mean? River Island will be customising their collections to work with the demand from Australia, they’re creating marketing and merchandising to appeal directly to a southern hemisphere shopper (without ‘dumping old stock’ down under). “We found that shoppers [in Australia] want what’s in store and in fashion now – all across the globe,” says Roscop, and “we’ll tailor the website for the Australian market.”

When Time Out went to press, stock was still priced in pounds, from five quid for socks to £200 for leather jackets, but that will transfer to Aus dollars very soon. The e-store is also selling its Pacha swimwear range, produced in collaboration with the clubbing institution. Plus, drawing inspiration from its roots, River Island boasts a vintage-inspired collection called ‘Chelsea Girl’ – the name of the brand in the 1960s and ’70s – a formal suiting range for men, as well as distressed, patchwork pieces (university outfitter-style), and clothes for kids.

“Inclusive” and “inspiring” was how Roscop described River Island, and as the British store paves its way into a permanent fixture in Australia’s retail landscape we’re anticipating it’ll receive a customarily warm welcome. Hopefully in Melbourne first.

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Updated on 11 Mar 2014.

By Emma Joyce, Joel Meares, Andrew Tijs   |  

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