Little over a year ago, one wondered whether Fat Face, the lifestyle fashion retailer, had run its course.

Little over a year ago, one wondered whether Fat Face, the lifestyle fashion retailer, had run its course. Retail Week Knowledge Bank’s profile charts how sales growth – averaging more than 40% until 2007 – had fallen to low single figures, with margins disappearing despite stores still opening and densities dropping. The product offer had lost appeal, and resultant discounting had undermined trust. Management faced the increasingly daunting task of retaining into their thirties disillusioned customers of a tarnished brand.

What a difference a change of management – under Anthony Thompson from Asda’s George -– and a year can make. RWKB’s updated profile shows how the business turned round within months. The analysis shows, ironically, that previous management had begun putting things right for the summer and autumn 2010 seasons, when encouraging sales rises began to be recorded on admittedly poor previous year figures. New management only began influencing the offer subsequently but, certainly, sales growth rates kept building, reaching 25% by the end of 2010/11.

Having retreated from international franchising while The Range and other UK operational issues were addressed, domestic growth soon resumed: the UK outlet total passed 200 in July. RWKB now expects re-instatement of international expansion plans.

It is too early to be sure that Fat Face is out of the woods and, like other young formats, it will always be vulnerable to fashion’s fickleness. Nevertheless, brand trust seems to have been largely restored, probably without irretrievable longer term damage, though the ongoing challenge of constantly evolving will remain.

RWKB comments, though, that increasing international scale should help bring domestic credibility benefits as wider global brand status is created. While future ups and downs must be expected, one could not have commented positively in this vein a year ago: speculation then concerned burnout of a short-lived shooting star of UK retailing.

  • Robert Clark, Director, retail week knowledge bank

Retail Week Knowledge Bank

Fat Face is just one of the 250 company profiles included in Retail Week Knowledge Bank.

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