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Office Trend Signals Emerge in Men’s Wear Brand’s Second Bankruptcy in 2 Years

A British men’s wear brand’s second bankruptcy in two years doesn’t bode well for sellers of office-ready attire.

Workers in the U.K. and elsewhere are returning to their offices, but TM Lewin’s second collapse into administration suggests that white-collar male employees are dressing differently for work and formal shirts aren’t part of their game plan.

The writing was on the wall even before the pandemic hit as slumping suit sales were the norm for several years. The pandemic’s disruption to the rhythms of office-bound life only accelerated the casualization trend that was well underway. On June 30, 2020, TM Lewin filed a pre-packaged administration process and closed all 66 stores after landlord negotiations stalled. The retailer moved to a digital-only model after Stonebridge Private Equity acquired the label as the latest addition to Torque Brands. However, it seems that maneuvering may have been too little, too late.

TM Lewin is far from the only men’s retailer that has failed to weather not just the pandemic but consumers’ shifting preferences toward less dressy clothing. Fellow men’s wear retailer Moss Bros. narrowly avoided administration after creditor approval for a company voluntary agreement allowing it to pay back creditors over a fixed period. It has since launched a monthly subscription rental service.

The subsequent rise of Covid-19 variants aggravated an already dire situation, with workers continuing to work from home and making the shift to casual clothing a more permanent part of men’s closets. One casualty was British men’s wear supplier Prominent Europe, which wound down in April last year. And a few months later in September, British retailer Marks & Spencer stopped stocking suits at 57 percent of its stores.

Financially distressed Shandong Ruyi put Trinity Group into liquidation in Bermuda last year. As a result, its Kent & Curwen brand shut down, although stores in Greater China remain open. It’s unclear if Trinity will find a buyer for the 250-year-old Saville Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes.

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Comfort clothing began making bigger inroads in men’s as companies began incorporating the same stretch and performance functionality first seen in women’s athleisure apparel. That has been a game changer in not just clothing but also footwear.

Last week, U.K. firm Steptronic Footwear went bankrupt. With suit sales on the decline, there was little need for dress shoes, and Steptronic’s mostly sold brogues, Oxfords and boots. The firm has a small selection of casual styles, but doesn’t sell performance footwear. NPD research shows that more than 50 percent of U.S. consumers now wear casual sneakers to work, while less than 20 percent sport dress styles. With a greater focus on running, walking and hiking—a part of the post-pandemic trend toward wellness and a healthier lifestyle—NPD sport industry advisor Matt Powell is predicting another strong year for the casual footwear market in 2022.

As for TM Lewin, current trends aren’t in its favor, and most companies bankrupt a second time often find themselves at the end of their lifeline with few options for survival.