“Everything we touched turned to gold,” Missguided founder Nitin Passi once said of his booming fast fashion brand. Notorious for selling a bikini that costs as little as £1, the online clothing site boasted the latest trends at the best prices. The company that the entrepreneur founded in 2009 at the age of 26 experienced a spectacular success story and made him a multi-millionaire within a few years. But as of last week, its decline has been as rapid as its rise — and its fad.
Missguided – which described its aesthetic as “kardashian” – called out administrators last Monday when angry suppliers claimed they had millions of pounds out of their pockets and were on the verge of going under. Potential buyers including Asos and rivals Boohoo were rumored but on Wednesday it was announced that Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, formerly Sports Direct, had acquired it for £20million. The controversial businessman who once owned Newcastle United also rescued House of Fraser from administration but has been criticized in the past for poor working conditions in his warehouses.
Despite the purchase, Missguided’s dramatic demise has cast doubt on the future of fast fashion, as many retail pundits say young consumers have turned their backs on cheap, throw-away fashion. Fittingly, this year’s Love Island contestants will be dressed in second-hand clothing sourced from eBay rather than former fast-fashion sponsors Missguided and I Saw It First, with the show’s bosses saying they want it to be “a more environmentally friendly production” becomes “.
When he started the company, Passi claimed he “didn’t have a clue about anything on the internet” and yet it turned over £100,000 in six months and in 2020 his net worth was estimated at £200m. Missguided’s mission was “to empower women worldwide to be confident and be who they want to be,” and Passi was quick to enlist big-name celebs like Nicole Scherzinger as the face of the brand. It sponsored Love Island for five years and has almost 10 million followers on Instagram.
So it may come as a surprise that such a big player should collapse. But with rising inflation and the current cost of living crisis, shoppers appear to be tightening their wallets when it comes to non-essential items. “Pressures on the cost of living are starting to affect younger shoppers, which means they’re going out less and spending less on clothes,” says Catherine Shuttleworth, managing director of marketing agency Get Savvy. “They’re not as involved with fast fashion as they used to be.”
It seems that trouble has been brewing at Missguided for a while. Some of its suppliers claimed they hadn’t been paid in months and were asked for a 30 per cent discount on already agreed orders back in December. A Leicester factory owner said he owed him more than £2million from the company and had to send his 90 workers home as he could not afford their wages. Another said he was forced to sell his wife and mother’s jewelry to pay his employees. It is also claimed that 80 Missguided employees were fired immediately after administrators were brought in.
There have been previous scandals involving Missguided suppliers. In 2017, an undercover investigation revealed that one of its Leicester factories was paying its workers below minimum wage in poor working conditions. Little had changed in the industry by 2020, when Priti Patel asked the National Crime Agency to investigate conditions at one of Boohoo’s suppliers, also in Leicester, when it was alleged he was paying workers £3.50 an hour .
The Home Secretary called the allegations “truly appalling” and vowed to crack down on modern slavery in Britain. In 2018, Missguided was also forced to make a series of layoffs after suffering significant losses, and made more last year when investment firm Alteri took over 50 percent of the company and began pouring money into the company to revitalize it. It is said to have struggled after rising supply chain costs, supply issues and competition. Missguided did not respond to requests for comment.
So did that always happen? Georgia Gadsby, co-founder and PR director at Unearth PR, believes so. “It’s no secret that for years Missguided has been accused of underpaying workers while their fast fashion processes are increasingly frowned upon due to their environmental impact,” she says. “Instead of responding effectively to this shift in consumer interest, Missguided proceeded with highly ineffective influencer marketing programs and campaigns that failed to engage their audience while continuing to make their clothing less and less affordable, causing their money-conscious customers to become less interested in them products and brand.”
Fashion uses 1.5 trillion tons of water annually and is the second largest polluter after flying
Fashion certainly has a large ecological footprint. Industry produces 92 million tonnes of waste every year – with British consumers buying more clothes than anywhere else in Europe. It uses 1.5 trillion tons of water annually and is the second largest polluter after flying, causing more than 1.7 billion tons of global carbon emissions each year. Retail experts believe shoppers are becoming increasingly aware of this.
“I think fast fashion was mostly geared towards the younger generations, but Gen Z are real frontrunners when it comes to second-hand shopping and upcycling,” says Eshita-Kabra Davies, founder of fashion rental app By Rotation. She says By Rotation has seen a spike in downloads and rents are up 200 percent month-on-month.
However, cynics say that Missguided’s downfall may have been as easy as its competitors were better. “It’s always tempting to think of any brand that goes into administration as a triumphant death knell for fast fashion,” says Lauren Bravo, author of How to Break Up with Fast Fashion. “But unfortunately I think the truth is a bit more complicated. While Missguided might be thrashing around, we’ve seen other ultra-fast fashion brands like Shein go from strength to strength – and that’s the thing about ultra-fast fashion, of course: it taught us to be fickle and impatient, so it makes sense that buyers switch theirs regularly Loyalty as newer, faster, trendier brands emerge to compete.”
For his part, Frasers Group chief executive Michael Murray is confident about the future of the new acquisition. He said the company is pleased to ensure Missguided’s long-term future, adding that it “would benefit from the strength and scale of Frasers Group’s platform and our operational excellence.”
But fashion consultant Aja Barber is hoping for an end to the British love affair with cheap clothes. “I think the entire fast fashion pyramid is unsustainable. I will not cry for Missguided.”