A true icon of the British high street, River Island has been delivering leading trends for over 60 years
River Island is a London based; multi-channel fashion brand formed in 1948 by Bernard Lewis. It started from humble beginnings when Bernard set up a fruit and vegetable stall in Notting Hill, then opened another stall selling wool and some ladies clothing shortly after.
After the war, the brand started selling womens clothing, noticing a demand in this area. This was a successful pursuit, where they started designing clothes in-house, and the chain soon expanded to nine other stores, under the name ‘Lewis Separates’.
Its raise to fame was in the 1960s when it became the influential womenswear chain ‘Chelsea Girl’. It has now grown to stores in over 125 worldwide markets, both in-store and online, selling trend focused womenswear, menswear and kids wear. In the UK, the brand has 250 stores, the flagship branches being in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and London, not to mention their online site as well. In 1993, the chain expanded outside the UK, establishing stores on Grafton Street, Dublin, Amsterdam in 2006 and Canada in 2021. To this day, the business remains family owned, with all their collections designed in-house.
In the 80s, menswear was introduced into the business under ‘Concept Man’. Then in 1988, the first ever River Island menswear store was launched, its name inspired by Leonards time spent on a Thames boat trip. After continued growth in the 90s and 2000s, River Island focused its efforts on trend led, in house designs, going on to be a high street fashion leader. It was so popular that it became one of the first high street retailers to launch online in the 90s.
More recently, River Island has become renowned for some of its high-profile partnerships. This includes the likes of Rihanna and Sofia Richie, the daughter of Lionel Richie. Further collaborations were also made with Mind, Ditch the label, Age UK and Place2be. River Island has also sponsored Graduate Fashion Week between 2005 and 2011, mentoring and sponsoring undergraduates on different creative courses.
River Island launched a new sustainability strategy in 2020, aligning to 12 commitments as specified by UN sustainable development goals. In 2020, River Island was named one of the top 10 quickest movers on the Fashion Transparency Index. The charity Newlife was formed by the former River Island MD Leonard Lewis which supports disabled and terminally ill children. One year later, 850,000 outfits were re-used or recycled through a River Island partnership. Since 2016, River Island have raised £3 million by donating all their carrier bag levy to charity. River Island plays a part in several different sustainability partnerships, including the Bangladesh Accord, Carbon Trust, WRAP and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. The brand has announced a pledge to use 100% sustainable cotton by 2023 and has also joined the Microfibre Consortium.
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