Success Stories

Success Stories: River Island

It started out as a small, family business and now it’s a multimillion pound high street brand. Wholesale Scout looks at the rise of high street and online retailer River Island.

The River Island story begins in 1948 with its founder Bernard Lewis. Lewis started out as many wholesale buyers do today – by buying and selling products and materials at a market place. Lewis began selling fruit and vegetables on a stall in East London and, aided by his three brothers, he went on to knit wool and sell it to the public.

The brothers moved to their first store after the war and during the next two decades the brand Lewis Separates was created and over 70 stores were opened across the UK. In 1965 the brand was doing well but to keep up with the times, Lewis decided to change its name to embrace popular culture and the brand Chelsea Girl was born. It was apparently inspired by King’s Road in Chelsea and the move was designed to show the company’s high-fashion and high-trend clothing and designs.

During the 1980’s the retail brand expanded further by opening a menswear chain called Concept Clothing. The Lewis Trust was also set up and the business portfolio expanded into the hotel industry. A few years later the men’s retail division was merged with the original brand and in 1988 the retail chain was renamed River Island, housing both women’s and men’s clothing under one roof.

Today there are over 300 River Island stores worldwide – with stores in the UK, Northern Ireland and across Europe. Their online store is also popular throughout the globe and River Island is one of the busiest high street stores around.

Although it’s massively expanded from its inception, River Island remains a privately owned company. The Lewis family are apparently the 41st richest family in the UK – worth an estimated £1.4bn.

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