With over 300 stores throughout the UK and beyond, it’s hard to imagine a high street without River Island. Who would have thought this high street giant started out as a fruit and veg shop?
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.com
With a long history dating back over 60 years, the journey to the River Island we know today is an unusual one, not least because the company is still privately owned by the founder’s family, having avoided being gobbled up by larger groups of stores and co-operations. Bernard Lewis started his retail career by selling fruit and vegetables and then knitting wool in post-war London. Working with his three brothers, the chain which was then known as Lewis Separates quickly expanded to nine stores.
By the time the store came to rebrand in mid-sixties the brothers had an impressive empire of 70 stores in the UK. Inspired by the hub of fashion, music and culture that was the King’s Road in Chelsea at the time, Lewis Separates became Chelsea Girl and the first fashion boutique chain store was born. Chelsea Girl was the high street store of the seventies, tapping into the zeitgeist with strong colours, popular music and a strong fashion image. The Chelsea Girl brand was so much a part of the era that River Island relaunched the brand as a capsule collection in their stores in 2011.
Image courtesy of HomeGirlLondon.com
Through the Lewis Trust Group the brothers ran other businesses alongside their retail operation and by the early eighties the company had become so successful that they were able to launch a menswear brand known as Concept Man. Just a few years down the line in 1988 the company rebranded yet again, bringing together Chelsea Girl and Concept Man to become River Island. Since then the company continued to go from strength to strength opening stores around the world.
Today River Island is still one of the main players on the high street. A large in-house design team means they are able to keep on top of the ever quickening fashion pace with new designs hitting their stores every week. The relaunched Chelsea Girl and collaborations with Rihanna ensure that they continue to tap into the popular culture and produce clothes that swarms of high street shoppers want to wear. Rebranding is key to the success of River Island; never afraid to try something new, the brand will transform itself according to whatever is popular at the time, making it the chameleon of the high street and always “of the moment”.
Who knows where fashion and the high street will take us next? The only thing we can be certain of is that River Island will be there.
By Samantha Vandersteen