Are Prints Losing Their Power?

Four licensed lifestyle brands known for their distinctive all-over prints have been struggling of late:

  • Orla Kiely, the 1970s-infused label tied to the Irish designer billed as the “queen of prints,” announced in September that it would liquidate, shutting its stores, located in the U.K. and Ireland, and its website. The 20-plus-year-old brand’s licensing business, which encompasses accessories and home goods, is continuing. The label was popular with shoppers and celebrities, but high debt and high street struggles across the board in the U.K. were contributing factors in the demise.
  • Cath Kidston, known for its vintage-style floral prints, saw its losses more than double in its most recent fiscal year, despite a 1.2% growth in sales. Strong markets include its home territory of the U.K. as well as Asia, where it has a robust e-commerce business and has plans to open stores. The company blamed the worsening losses on rising costs. Cath Kidston recently collaborated with Disney on a Mickey Mouse 90th anniversary collection, and it oversees an outbound licensing program as well. This month, it launched an advertising campaign meant to attract a younger fan base.
  • Vera Bradley saw its shares fall after missing analyst estimates and reporting a 14.4% decline in revenue in its third quarter, announced in December. It attributed the decrease in part to a 70% reduction in clearance selling and noted that its full-price business saw growth. Fourth-quarter and full-year revenues are forecast to decline as well. Recently signed categories for the Vera Bradley licensing program include bed and bath and sleepwear.
  • Laura Ashley, known for its Victorian prints, saw total group sales fall 7% and profit before taxes and exceptional items decline 33% in its last full-year results, announced in August 2018. In December, the company closed 40 stores in the U.K. and its Australian retail licensee (with 18 stores) went into bankruptcy for the second time. Bright spots include same-store fashion sales (up .4%) and online sales (up 4.1%). Recent U.S. licensing activities have included a capsule collection with Urban Outfitters, a deal with Merchsource and Walgreen’s for wine glasses and gift items, and tiles and backsplashes with The Tile Shop.

The companies above all cited unique reasons for their woes, but they have some things in common. First, it should be noted that all but Vera Bradley are U.K.-headquartered brands and face an especially challenging retail landscape there. In addition, the market for apparel and home goods featuring brightly colored, all-over-printed fabrics—which these brands helped pioneer—has become saturated over the years, making it increasingly difficult to differentiate.

That said, it is dangerous to generalize in this case. Other labels known for their prints are doing well of late, including Oxford Industry’s Lilly Pulitzer and Tapestry’s Kate Spade, the latter of which seems to have recovered from previous hard times, at least for now.

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