The quintessential British High-street that we all know and love is having a major shift and we are preparing to say goodbye to the shops that have been alongside our walkways since the dawn of time. A string of fashion chains including Oasis, Warehouse, Cath Kidston, Laura Ashley and Debenhams have faced pressures from rising costs, the shift to online shopping and low consumer confidence. The crisis facing the retail sector is profound and it is now a question of survival of the fittest to adapt and survive the devastating blows of this pandemic. Fashion Intern reaches out to employers at Oasis who have been personally affected by the Covid-19 crisis.
Oasis and Warehouse have taken the decision to permanently close all of their stores and online shopping with the loss of more than 1,800 jobs after administrators have been unable to save both fashion chains. According to the Guardian, Rob Harding, a joint administrator at Deloitte explained how “it is with great sadness that we have to announce a sale of the business has not been possible and that we are announcing so many redundancies today.” Speaking in April, Hash Ladha, chief executive of Oasis Warehouse said: “This is a situation that none of us could have predicted a month ago, and comes as shocking and difficult news for all of us. We as a management team have done everything we can to try and save the iconic brands that we love”.
Fashion Intern interviewed Holly Browne, senior brand content manager to get the inside scoop on working life at Oasis and how it feels to be made redundant.
Holly Browne, Senior Brand Content Manager
As Senior Brand Content Manager at Oasis Fashion, what did your day in the life look like?
At Oasis, no day was the same. You’d find me brainstorming digital content plans with my team, finessing email and homepage schedules, attending monthly shoots, creating copy guidelines or scribbling down a thousand thoughts per minute in preparation for a big campaign session. It was fun, fast-paced and challenging. I’ve always been ambitious and driven, but not so much at school. I adored Art and English, but when it came to exams I crumbled. Following disappointing GCSE results, I was lucky to study Graphic Design at West Herts College, which led me to gain a place at Solent University where I studied Writing Fashion and Culture. I felt like I had finally found my calling. I interned over every summer break and developed a taste for the industry, gaining experience at As Seen On Screen (now ASOS), Easy Living, the London Paper and Fashion156. There, I created copy for the website and enjoyed every moment. I then applied for my first permanent role at Isabella Oliver, the renowned maternity brand. The rest, as they say, is history.
What made Oasis so special?
It was refreshingly real, tongue-in-cheek and innovative, especially next to the indistinguishable pure players and pocket-money prices that continue to dominate the industry. I always felt that Oasis was this big, beautiful ball of energy that stood out in the crowd, like a cheery floral beacon. It genuinely made people happy; Oasis was always determined to make its customers crack a smile and feel good – and I don’t think many brands can say that. Oasis was truly loved and will be missed by many. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been involved in some unforgettable campaigns and collaborations, but all of those achievements and highlights wouldn’t have been possible without my amazing, inspiring Oasis family. Great people are what makes a great company, and I have many laugh-out-loud memories and lifelong friends thanks to my time at Oasis.
Do you think the closure of Oasis is a warning sign to other high-street brands?
I’m not sure it’s a warning, because most retailers will already be having/have had similar conversations and issues. I think the industry was saddened by the news of Oasis, but I don’t think it was shocked. Retail has become so tough that these headlines are becoming the norm; another beloved brand lost in the chaos. Let’s hope that this isn’t the end of the high street, but a new, exciting opportunity for brands to innovate and up their game.
What was Oasis’s failure? Was Covid-19 the nail in the coffin?
‘Failure’ feels a tad strong, and if I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure. The upcoming summer and autumn/winter collections were beautiful. We were so excited by the product development and what was to come… The marketplace will always be crowded, but this is where successes shine. H&M’s ever-growing portfolio (Arket, Cos, H&M Home, Monki, Weekday, & Other Stories etc) is phenomenal and I admire the company’s unique approach to each brand.
What has been the hardest thing about being made redundant during a pandemic?
Not being able to hug the people you’ve loved working with. And not being able to go to our local and raise a glass to Oasis. It was heart-breaking. I wouldn’t say redundancy was a surprise, but nobody ever wants to hear that news, especially during the lockdown. I can’t wait to celebrate the good times with my incredible team and give the brand the farewell it deserves.
What are your plans for the future?
Now’s the perfect time for me to take a step back and think about what I really want to do next. I’m keeping my ear to the ground and seeing what’s out there, but I’m also trying to enjoy this pause in my career. I’m helping out friends with a little freelancing, cleaning the house from top to bottom and Zoom quizzing like a pro! Who knows what the future holds, but here’s to the next chapter.
Hannah Eichler, Former Senior Brand Stylist
What was it like to work at Oasis?
It was such a fun and varied role as I got to do loads of different things, everything from e-commerce shoots, content shoots for Instagram and things that went across the website. I think one of the most valuable things about working for an in house brand was that it taught me ever a lot about the different departments such as how buying & merchandising works, all the content teams and strategising and marketing. Fundamentally if you can respect how different departments work and you have an appreciation for their process then that makes you quite a powerful person to know. I think my most memorable moment was when I styled two bridal campaigns and I saw the pictures up in all the stores and the windows all around the country.
What are your thoughts on the closure of Oasis and Warehouse?
Honestly, I feel so sad about the closure of Oasis & Warehouse. Oasis had a really strong brand voice and there were so many people who loved shopping there. The feedback we had was always so amazing, but I suppose they sold a lot of occasion wear for about £70-£80 and actually a lot of people don’t want to spend that kind of money anymore, they want a cheaper option. It was appealing to a small area in the market I suppose. When I was there, it was rumbling. They pulled us all in for a meeting and discussed the things in the press, talking about selling and that sort of thing. I started to feel a bit conscious but as with any company like that, it’s dealt with in a senior compacity.
Do you think Covid-19 will continue to impact the high-street?
Whilst yes I think Covid-19 was the nail in the coffin for Oasis and Warehouse, it certainly wasn’t something that was the only factor in the closure. Warehouse only two months ago launched menswear, so it feels a bit weird to me they were putting money into that and all of a sudden they aren’t’ operating anymore so I feel a bit suspicious about the whole thing if I’m honest. Obviously this will all have a massive impact on the high-street going forward, people are choosing to shop online more which will definitely see an impact. I think the brands that will do really well, are the ones that entered the industry prior in an online format. In terms of the future of Oasis, I have read that some senior members of staff are still staying on. In a similar capacity to Coast and Karen Millen, Boohoo bought both companies and now are operating online so one you never know, Oasis might get a buyer last minute. I really hope this isn’t the end of such an amazing company!”