Welsh Witterings: Farewell to Laura Ashley – a Piece of Welsh History
The home and fashion retailer Laura Ashley collapsed into administration a few months ago after its attempts to raise capital to fund a restructure of the business failed, and the impact of the coronavirus began nip. At the time of appointing the administrators Laura Ashley has more than 150 British stores and 2,700 employees.
The company was set up by the Welsh fashion designer, Laura Ashley and from its humble beginnings it came to be an iconic global brand. In Mid-Wales where I live Laura Ashley has been a major employer and the Laura Ashley lorries have been a familiar site on local roads for decades. Indeed it was 1984 when the first Laura Ashley factory opened in Newtown, Powys, creating 500 jobs and then in 1985 another factory opened in Gresford near Wrexham.
Indeed in rural mid Wales there has always been great affection for the Laura Ashley brand. I for one have always liked Laura Ashley, but I must admit that it is the patterns and designs of it’s 1980’s heyday that I mostly associate with the brand and I have purchased many of the retro fabrics and dresses over the years.
It is fair to say that recent years, have not been kind to the iconic retailer, with recent £15m talks to rescue it having crumbled amidst the worsening coronavirus outbreak. It is sad that a brand that began in a very small way, with a £10 investment in wood for a silk screen and fabric dyes; in a basement flat before growing to great heights has fell. In 1985 the firms founder and name sake, Laura Ashley, died after falling down the stairs. At the time of her death, the company employed 4,000 staff and was on the brink of further expansion. It was floated on the stock market in 1986 with a valuation of £200m. The world had fallen in love with the very British style of Laura Ashley and it seemed unstoppable. However, like all love affairs it faded, and as the appetite for Laura Ashley dwindled, futile attempts to turn around the losses which began emerging in 1991 were made. Indeed the declining fortunes of Laura Ashley have been reported for a long time, but now it seems the end is really here for the brand at least as we know it.
A buyer for the brand and the related intellectual property has been found, but the takeover does not include the Company’s factories in Wales. Today, I have seen ‘closing down sale’ signs on the factory shops and stores and it seems that the Mid Wales heritage of the company will not be part of the future of Laura Ashley. Though their is talk of preserving the valued Welsh heritage of the firm, the closure of the factories and outlet shops in Powys are a huge loss for the local economy and one that will be mourned by many locals.