Belgian clothing chains are in turmoil

Belgian clothing chains are in turmoil

Plenty of clothing chains had a 2016 to forget in Belgium and the results have not picked up in the first half of 2017, despite forecasts that 2017 would be a lot better than the incredibly weak 2016.

Bad weather and low consumer faith

2016 was an annus horribilis for the Belgian fashion industry: Charles Vögele shut down its stores and MS Mode Belgium went bankrupt. Other chains also faced tremendous pressure last year: JBC, LolaLiza and C&A all dealt with lower turnover in Belgium.


There were multiple reasons for those weak results: very bad weather, both in the summer and winter and the terrorist attack on 22 March. “A lot of people avoided city centers and shopping malls because of that”, retail expert Gino Van Ossel said. “Consumer confidence was also at a remarkable low already.” The fashion companies indicate that consumers also spend a lot more money on other things than fashion. The turnover growth expected for 2017 has not come through either.


Fast fashion surge

Only the cheaper fashion chains (like H&M, Zara and Primark) experienced turnover increases and only had to deal with a minor profit drop. “Foreign chains are often blamed for a clothing industry’s weaker performance, but that would be wrong”, Van Ossel said. “The real problem is that the arrival of chains like H&M has put pressure on the middle of the market. Belgian JBC is one of the victims, but Dutch C&A suffers as well.” A CEO for one of the chains in the middle segment of the market says the surge of those fast fashion chains has been more important to deal with than the rise of eCommerce.


Van Ossel believes clothing chains’ profit will continue to face pressure. The enormous competition will force companies to give discounts, while also having to invest in eCommerce at the same time.