Nathalie Thomas: Jane Norman's woes are but one small battle in a longer war of attrition

ONE of the fashion industry's most influential editors once remarked that TV shopping guru Gok Wan had a "nasty habit of making women look like they've been vomited on by Jane Norman".

The catty put down was intended as an affront to the self-styled "Aunty Gok" of How to Look Good Naked fame but it also said a lot about how the fashion pack viewed Jane Norman, which fell into administration yesterday putting up to 1,600 jobs at risk.

While it's not uncommon to see celebrities mixing and matching high street frocks from the likes of Warehouse, Zara and Topshop with their stratospherically expensive designer handbags – the Middleton sisters are a walking master class in the art – Jane Norman was rarely seen anywhere other than sweaty pubs and night clubs, and often on people who should have considered wearing two sizes bigger.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Of course, debt-laden Jane Norman isn't the first and won't be the last retailer to find itself in trouble in what is looking more and more like a second recession on the high street.

Habitat, Focus DIY and Oddbins have already gone to the wall and other famous brands such as Mothercare, HMV and JJB Sports are fighting for survival.

But to dismiss any of these long-established companies as merely the victims of another high street blood bath is like viewing the Second World War purely through the lens of the Battle of Britain.

The recent, albeit significant, downturn in consumer spending has undoubtedly played a part in their demise but it's only one small part of a much bigger conflict.

Most of the names on the "ones to watch" list saw their troubles start long before this latest consumer squeeze, which has simply hastened the inevitable.

While there will no doubt be plenty more doom and gloom to come from certain high street retailers, it's not all as bleak as it may seem.

For almost every failure there is a success story and JD Sports, Majestic Wine and Sports Direct are among those firms that have prevented retail analysts from jumping off a cliff of late. To pick just one example, Majestic Wine last month announced ambitious expansion plans after enjoying a 27 per cent leap in annual profits.

And that's before we even mention companies such as Mulberry and Burberry which operate at the luxury end of the market, which has seen shoppers snapping up thousand-pound handbags as if there is no tomorrow.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

For those companies that have worked hard to define and understand their market, pitched their goods at the right price and diversified into the fast-moving online retail space, the rewards have been plentiful.

There is still hope for Jane Norman and Edinburgh Woollen Mill is one of the surprise contenders that could buy the firm via a so-called pre-pack administration. Other names linked to a potential sale include Debenhams.

But as the blood letting on the high street continues, it'll be useful to remember that old saying about recessions: that they sort the wheat from the chaff.

Despite Cameron's words, UK still lags in Chinese trade stakes

HOW many times have you heard China and the words "great" or "huge opportunity" in the same breath? For the past decade at least, British firms have been urged to "look east" to China, which recently overtook Japan as the second biggest economy in the world.

Every cliche going has been deployed in order to encourage UK companies to make the long journey over to the "rising dragon" economy.

Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday became the latest person to play that easy PR game, trumpeting bilateral trade agreements worth 1.4 billion during Chinese premier Wen Jiabao's whistle-stop visit to Britain.

Thorny humans rights issues were carefully navigated in order to further promote trade between the two former adversaries, which fought each other bitterly during the Opium Wars during the 19t century

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The goal is to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion (63bn) by 2015 and yesterday several high value deals were announced, including an agreement between gas company BG Group and Bank of China that will allow the former to access up to $1.5 billion of funding to support expansion plans.

Drinks giant Diageo also revealed that Chinese regulators had approved its acquisition of an additional 4 per cent stake in Chinese joint venture Sichuan Chengdu Quanxing for around 13m, raising its total stake to 53 per cent.

Cameron was very keen to emphasise that trade is a two-way street but already Britain is falling behind other European countries in the battle to claim a slice of China's mounting wealth.

Although 10 Downing Street claims British exports have increased by 20 per cent since Cameron's last talks with the Chinese in November, it's a safe assumption that we are in for plenty more cliches about "waking tigers" yet.