Almost every large shopping center in the U.K. has a River Island store. With its stylish and fashionable clothing and accessories, it’s no wonder that this company has become as popular as it is today.
It all began in 1948 when a man named Bernard Lewis decided to try his hand at starting a business. However, it wasn’t clothing that he first tried to sell. Back then, he opted for fruit and vegetables which he sold to local people in London. Not long after, he changed his products entirely and used an unused site in the East End to start a fresh business selling wool for knitting.
This business idea took off quicker than the fruit and vegetable stall, and Bernard Lewis’ three brothers decided to join him and expand the company. Using the name Lewis Separates, the four brothers opened a total of five different stores across London. In 1955, there were now nine Lewis Separates stores, and the business was growing in success. Over the next few years, they were able to open many more shops and expand even further.
Seventeen years later in 1965, Bernard Lewis had gone from selling food to the locals, to having a shared company with 70 stores up and down the country. By this time, the Lewis brothers wanted to re-brand Lewis Separates, and since Chelsea was rapidly becoming the center of pop culture and fashion, the business was renamed Chelsea Girl. It was the first fashion boutique chain to open in the U.K., and focused solely on items that would appeal to females.
By the end of the 1970’s, two of the Lewis brothers left Chelsea Girl which left Bernard and David Lewis to go it alone. It was at this point that David Lewis ventured into a different niche and began to open property and investment companies. The Lewis Trust Group was owned by both Bernard and David. This new company was the umbrella name for Chelsea Girl and also the new hotels and properties which had been opened by David Lewis. Since David wanted to concentrate on the property side of the company, this left Bernard in charge of the retail and fashion.
Concept Man was opened in 1982 which was a branch of Chelsea Girl aimed at men. It sold clothing, footwear, and accessories for men, which meant that the company was now catering for everybody. Six year later, in 1988, the Lewis brothers decided to fully merge both Chelsea Girl and Concept Man into just one store, which was branded River Island.
By now, River Island was becoming more and more popular in the U.K. Both men and women were shopping there for stylish clothing and accessories, and in 1993, Bernard Lewis introduced Ireland to his stores by opening the first shop there. Over the next two decades, River Island would expand to open stores in Russia, Poland and selected areas of the Middle East.
Until 2010, River Island was not selling any clothing and shoes for children. The introduction of Kidswear into the stores meant that the brand became even more popular, and parents were now taking the whole family to shop there. The following year, the name Chelsea Girl came back into River Island stores as a feature brand within the shops.
The River Island headquarters in London now has a team who work on designing the products that are sold in the stores. Unlike many fashion businesses where the design team is working from another country, River Island’s team are based at the main headquarters of the business.
In 2013, River Island sales were boosted after pop singer Rihanna was featured advertising for the brand. After an increase in sales, the Rihanna for River Island collection was launched, featuring clothes modeled by the pop star herself. The clothing was instantly in high demand, and teenagers and young women were eager to get their hands on the items. Different clothing was available for the different seasons, giving customers the opportunity to buy swimwear and play suits in the summer, and sweaters and cardigans for the winter.
Now, River Island has more than 350 stores worldwide. These operate mainly in the U.K. and Ireland, although there are some stores in Asia, South America, the Middle East and other European countries. Alongside the physical River Island stores are six different websites with four currencies, and the online business is able to ship items to more than 100 different countries around the world. The online shopping world has made River Island accessible to millions of people worldwide.