What Lessons Could The Industry Learn From Topshop’s Downfall?

Although Topshop's demise might mark the end of an era, the good news is that there are lessons to be learnt from the fashion store's mistakes.

As the world of fashion changes right before our eyes, many die-hard fans are still shocked that high street royalty brand Topshop has fallen into administration. Although they officially confirmed the news in November 2020, rumours had already been spreading that Topshop was teetering on the brink of collapse. The main problem was that the British multinational fashion retailer, which started in Sheffield and London in 1964, did not anticipate that the evolving retail landscape would change the game the way it did and leave them in quite a sad state.

The Importance of Innovation Within the Fashion Space

Considered to be the UK’s largest corporate casualty of the pandemic so far, I believe that COVID-19 might have pushed the retail empire over the edge, but it was not the main cause for its collapse. If you take a closer look, it is easy to see that it was Topshop’s reluctancy to move with the times that doomed the brand and sealed its fate. “The market place has changed forever – people want a different kind of service,” Green told the BBC after the CVA deal was agreed in 2019. “Should we have seen that three or four years ago? Maybe. But now we need to get on with the job.”

Definitely slow on the uptake, I have to acknowledge that once-upon-a-time in 2016 Topshop partnered up with Decoded Fashion,  to create opportunities for innovative start-ups and entrepreneurs to pitch ideas on how they would use their technology to enhance the shopping experience for TOPSHOP customers, both in-store and online. When they announced the collab I got excited. Finally, the high street shop was entering the ring, but as soon as they announced the partnership, I never heard of it again. So what more could they have done to avoid Topshop suffocating in the debris of other failed fashion companies? Well, let me share five lessons that might have helped the high street fashion store avoid its downfall. 

1. INVESTING: The Importance of Innovation 

With a need for digitalisation within the fashion industry, and challenged by online-only fashion platforms like Boohoo and Asos, Topshop lagged on the digital front. There were reports that Topshop’s online stores didn’t function properly. The highstreet brand seemed not to understand that digitalisation is not merely about opening an online store and delivering clothing but also about customer engagement and brand building. 

Not understanding the importance of innovation within the fashion space, Topshop’s’ If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude meant that they not only failed to accelerate their digital marketplace but they neglected to invest in digital solutions. To put it bluntly, if Topshop had invested in new technology, not ignored the rise of online shopping, maybe it would have been whistling a different tune.

2. AWARENESS: Catering to The Conscious Crowd

Reportedly Topshop has “zero transparency about their practices.” Following a fast fashion business model, Topshop seems to not be in any hurry to incorporate sustainability into their strategy. Goodonyou.eco lists the highstreet giant as ‘not good enough’ when it comes to being environmentally and people (wages) friendly. If Topshop had not been procrastinating on these issues, maybe the headlines would be a little different.

3. EXPERIMENTATION: Missed Opportunities

These days it is vital for fashion brands to have an appetite for change. They need to shift their focus on technology and take advantage of the opportunity to experiment. Yes, Topshop did launch a virtual store on Tmall, but they had already missed the best window by then.

 Fashion brands can no longer be too busy to change ingrained habits. Topshop was a forward-thinking brand for PR, but unfortunately, they were slow on the uptake when it came to exploring with digital fashion shows, virtual catwalks and virtual showrooms.

4. COLLABORATIONS: Partnering Up TO Change the Conversation

Topshop was a fashion brand that sealed its golden age through collaborations. How can any of us forget the Kate Moss for Topshop collection? The high street brand started the trend of celebrity/influencer partnerships, so it is easy for one to assume that they would have understood the importance of working together with someone capable of bringing excitement to the fashion arena. Alas no, the fashion brand missed its opportunity to partner up with forward-thinking startups like the Fabricant or Clo3D. That being said it did dabble with developing a range of contactless accessories in partnership with Barclaycard, but the collaboration did not go past the gimmick stage, which was a shame.

With the merger of fashion with technology changing the conversation, I believe that Topshop could have been ahead of the curve when it comes to reinventing, adapting and experimenting with new technologies and methods through collaborations, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

5. MANUFACTURING: Surviving Supply Chain Disruption

At last, Fashion brands are waking up to the need to improve their supply chain through innovation. For some, it has been a hard lesson learnt when the pandemic brought their business to a grinding halt. The solution has been adopting new technologies designed to help companies like Topshop alter their conventional ways of working.

Yes, is 2014 the Arcadia Group, the British multinational retailing company that owns Topshop, opted for new supply chain technology from Manhattan Associates, but had they fully embraced the new wave of digitisation of the supply chain, maybe Topshop would have been able to rebuild a more resilient supply chain that was connected, smarter, and faster. I guess in the end it is a case of “woulda, shoulda, coulda”.

Share Your Tips & Corrections

Founding Editor in Chief at | editor@fashnerd.com | Website

Founding editor-in-chief & WearableTechStylist of FashNerd.com, Muchaneta has worked in the fashion industry for over 14 years. She is currently one of the leading influencers speaking and writing about the merger of fashion with technology and wearable technology and a regular contributor to digital news sites like Wareable.