Jun 20, 2019
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Wiggle boss to join River Island as CEO in September

Jun 20, 2019

The former boss of The White Company and Wiggle is taking on the top job at one of the biggest names in UK affordable fashion retail with Will Kernan joining River Island as its CEO.

River Island

It’s a significant move for the company that has previously been run by the founding family. Ben Lewis, who’s the nephew of founder Bernard Lewis, has been in charge for nine years and is stepping down. But he’s not cutting his ties and will be a non-executive director.

Company chairman Clive Lewis said he’d had “a distinguished tenure” and added that the “succession has been carefully planned following a rigorous selection process.”

White Company is a premium interiors-focused chain that Kernan joined in 2012, and Wiggle is a cycling specialist that he has headed since 2017. So does he have any direct exposure to the trend-led fast-fashion sector? Of course. Some 13 years spent at New Look earlier in his career (ending up as COO before he joined The White Company) means he’s well used to the hugely competitive fashion retail market.

He will take up his post at River Island in late September at a time when physical fashion stores in the UK are facing historically bleak conditions as consumers move online and rein-in their fashion spend.

But River Island is one of the stronger players in the sector and appears to be weathering the storm, even though its latest results showed operating profits falling. Last autumn it said they dropped 40% to £80.6 million and sales fell 3% to £944.5 million. 

While the company has stressed that stores remain important to its offer, it has been investing heavily in omnichannel and in technology generally, such as artificial intelligence-based tech to keep stock levels under control. It has also added new categories such as homewares.

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