UK’s Topshop Tests African Water

VENTURES AFRICA – Renowned UK fashion retailer Topshop has launched its first products in Africa, increasing the investment of top American and European retailers on the continent.

The retailer has opened a pop-up store in Cape Town, South Africa, partnering with boutique Unknown Union to offer a selection of Topshop and Topman merchandise in their store.

Though it is unclear if Topshop has plans to open a stand-alone store in Cape Town or elsewhere in Africa, it follows much speculation of such a happening and suggests the firm is testing the market. It comes as other top retailers from Europe and the United States seek to increase their presence on the continent. Gap Inc. opened two stores in South Africa in March, and plans to expand into their rest of Africa. Spain’s Inditex, the largest fashion retailer in Europe, launched in South Africa last year, while another Spanish chain, Mango, is looking to expand its presence in Nigeria having launched in Lagos in 2009.

“We are delighted to be showcasing within Unknown Union,” said Topman managing director David Shepherd. “The store has a great design aesthetic and carries some excellent brands so we are very pleased to be part of the mix.”

The growth of South Africa’s middle class has encouraged luxury clothing brands from abroad, including Burberry, to add stores in the country. Yet the expansion of Topshop, whose parent company Arcadia is controlled by British billionaire Philip Green, contrasts sharply with the plans to scale back in the UK. Last November Arcadia posted a 38 percent fall in year profit, falling to £133.1 million ($208 million) in the year to August 27 2011, down from £213.2 million ($332 million) in the 2009-10 year. Total sales, from 2,507 owned stores and 600 franchised outlets in 36 countries, fell 3.4 percent to £2.68 billion ($4.2 billion).

Unknown Union managing director Sean Shuter said that the pop-up store suggested that Topshop was keen to make an impact on the African market, though stressed this was not for him to decide.

“They have a history of doing pop-ups in markets that they are interested in opening stores in, but I think [this] is largely a promotional effort on their part,” he said. “Given the reaction that we got to this, it would certainly make sense for them to consider doing their own stand-alone stores at some point, but I’m not really privy to those discussions. What their long-term plans are for the market, I’m not really sure,” he added.

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