A curtain lowering, salespeople and customers in tears. It's been almost a year since the main French ready-to-wear brands have been divesting themselves of their points of sale, swept away by a crisis from which they cannot see an end. After the liquidation of Camaïeu, announced at the end of September 2022, then the placement in receivership of Kookaï, Go Sport and André last winter, it is the turn of certain Naf Naf stores to close shop. In receivership since September, the flagship brand of the 90s had no other choice than to sacrifice 17 of its shops in the hope of getting back on track. “No matter how much we expect it, when it happens it’s heartbreaking,” confides Sarah, still moved. This Parisian store manager welcomed her last customers last Saturday. “Management explained to us that these were points of sale that did not contribute to the company's turnover, and that it was impossible to renegotiate the rents,” she reports bitterly. .
At the other end of France, Monia is also preparing for permanent closure. His shop, nestled in a small shopping center in Nice, will close in a few months, on January 31. “The big surprise is that we got a few months of respite,” she smiles sadly. The thirty-year-old readily admits: this store, of which she took over the reins a little over a year ago, has never broken sales records. “It is located at the end of the shopping center, surrounded by opticians and telephone stores, it is not ideal for selling clothes…” she sighs. Inflation has finally given it the final blow. Since July, attendance has been in free fall. “The clients left and never came back,” she summarizes. No more double-digit receipts, too. “Purchasing power has decreased in recent months, which has resulted in a drastic drop in the average basket,” explains Monia.
In direct contact with the “field”, store managers have formed their own ideas about the decline of the brand. “I think management made bad strategic choices,” begins Sarah. A Naf Naf employee for thirteen years and union representative, she followed the company through its fluctuations: first within the Vivarte group, then under the Chinese consortium La Chapelle, and finally, in the portfolio of the Turkish Sy Corporate. “We lost a lot of customers following the takeover by SY, due to the new line adopted by management,” she believes. The former manager sums up this new line in a few words: higher prices, lower quality. “Everything you shouldn’t do, in short,” she exclaims. Certainly, to remain competitive, the brand has had the idea of increasing promotions in recent years. “But it wasn’t the idea of the century either,” squeaks Monia in turn. “Management wanted to please customers at all costs, even if it meant putting our cash flow in difficulty,” says the Nice manager.
Also read: Camaïeu, Pimkie, Burton… The endless falling of the curtain on ready-to-wear brands
The two managers agree on one point: the grass is not greener elsewhere. They know that the crisis facing French ready-to-wear is structural. “Consumption patterns have changed radically,” emphasizes Sarah. “When I started, mid-range ready-to-wear was an extremely buoyant segment, today it’s the opposite,” she sighs. “I started in the profession twenty years ago, when the Internet did not exist. Shopping was in stores,” remembers Monia. For the forty-year-old, there is no doubt: it is online commerce that has emptied the stores. “The decline accelerated when Asos and SheIn arrived, the dates coincide,” she exclaims. The sector is, according to her, experiencing its swan song. “I really fear that within 10 to 20 years, there won’t be a single women’s ready-to-wear store in the city center…” she sighs.
It may not be necessary to wait that long. Burton, Jennyfer, Pimkie... We can no longer count the brands that are, like Naf Naf, on a tightrope. “My fear is that we end up liquidated, like Camaïeu. This is why I am in favor of the transfer,” defends Sarah. A new buyer, therefore. “I know that this is not the miracle solution and that there will be some damage too, but at least the brand will last…”. Because Sarah is convinced, “SY Corporate’s recovery plan does not hold water”. “How do you want to turn around a company of this size while keeping only 20 employees at headquarters?” she asks. She is also indignant at the delays in the payment of salaries, while many of the employees have still not received their pay from last month. “The payment of salaries is the priority in the event of legal recovery. What we are experiencing at Naf Naf is unheard of...,” storms the former Parisian manager.
For Sarah and Monia, soon to be made redundant by the brand, a page is turning. Far from Naf Naf... and far from ready-to-wear. “Even though I have devoted ten years of my life to it, this field no longer interests me at all,” assures Sarah, who is already preparing her professional reconversion. “I loved the contact with customers but the economic situation is too tough,” says Monia, with a heavy heart. More than the sluggish sales, it is the setbacks of the brand that have marked the thirty-year-old brand. “Going through legal receivership is hard for you and it’s hard for your team. I don’t want to experience a second one,” she murmurs, resigned to continuing her adventures in another professional sector.