River Island chief executive Will Kernan is stepping down after three years at the helm, Retail Week can reveal.

Will Kernan

Will Kernan joined River Island in September 2019

Sources close to the fashion retailer said Kernan is leaving “to pursue personal projects”.  

Kernan will remain with River Island until next year, working closely with chair Clive Lewis on a handover process. Senior reporting lines will be unchanged during that period. 

A search for Kernan’s successor is now underway. 

Kernan, who chairs luxury biscuits etailer Biscuiteers and is a founding investor of online menswear operator Spoke, joined River Island from cycling and tri-sports specialist Wiggle in September 2019. 

He led the high street fashion chain through the coronavirus crisis and oversaw its swing back into the black in 2021 despite the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

River Island reported an operating profit of £73.5m during the 52 weeks to December 25, 2021, compared with a £36.2m loss the previous year. Sales jumped 23.2% to £740m during the same period.

The retailer admitted in September that trading had been “more challenging” as a result of spiralling costs and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on consumer spending habits.

But Kernan insisted River Island was “well-positioned, both financially and operationally, to weather the economic uncertainties ahead”.

In an internal memo sent to River Island executives earlier today, seen by Retail Week, Kernan said: “I am extremely grateful for the time I have spent as an Islander. 

“River Island is a business with a unique and very special culture. I am proud of what we have achieved as a team, despite the unprecedented trading environment in recent years.

“My affection for the River business, its core values and the Lewis family make my decision to move on all the more difficult, but I am excited by the prospect of my next chapter.” 

Clive Lewis added: “I am sorry to see Will go and wish him all the best for the future. We have a very strong team and full confidence in our ability to transition smoothly.”

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