What Happened To Figleaves? Why Was It Shut Down?

Executive Summary:

Figleaves was an online retailer out of Great Britain that specialized in the distribution of lingerie and related female clothing.

Figleaves was shut down because interest in the company slowly began to fade and because N Brown wanted to streamline its businesses to boost growth.

What Is Figleaves?

Figleaves is an online retailer based in the United Kingdom. The site is primarily known for selling lingerie.

The clothing on the site is primarily aimed at a female demographic. However, in the past, Figleaves also distributed men’s clothing.

Figleaves, apart from offering underwear, also offered clothing in a variety of other categories including nightwear, swimwear, and sports.

The clothes were sourced from dozens of different brands such as Birkenstock, Calvin Klein, Puma, Spanx, and many others.

Figleaves. Furthermore, created a variety of different content ranging from style guides for certain sizes all the way to how to properly measure a bra.

Although Figleaves was based in the U.K., it also operated a dedicated site for U.S.-based consumers. Nevertheless, it delivered clothing to more than 100 countries across the globe.

Figleaves was ultimately shut down in February 2021. How it came to be, who’s behind it, and what ultimately led to its closure will be covered in the next few chapters.

What Happened To Figleaves?

Figleaves, formerly headquartered in Stevenage, England, was founded in 1998 by Daniel Nabarro and Michael Ross.

Both founders graduated from the University of Cambridge. While Nabarro did so in 1969, studying Electrical Sciences, Ross ‘only’ graduated in 1990 with a degree in Mathematics.

Nabarro, post-graduation, spend the first few decades of his career in engineering-related roles. He, for example, worked at GEC. In 1989, he sold his first company, Intercity Paging, providing him with enough capital to start another business.  

Meanwhile, Ross had spent the early years of his career at McKinsey where he rose to the ranks of manager.

However, it was Nabarro who actually started the company. At the time, the internet bubble was reaching its peak, allowing hundreds of companies to raise tropes of money.

More and more products and services, which would previously be offered in the physical world, found themselves on the world wide web.

Nabarro wanted to take advantage of that trend. When he launched his shop in early 1999, it was actually named Easyshop and offered items such as lingerie, perfumes, and more.

He consequently brought on Michael Ross as an additional co-founder not long after. In fact, Ross became the firm’s CEO while Nabarro served as its chairman.

Towards the end of the year, in December, the two managed to raise their first round of funding. Venture investors eHatchery poured £4 million into the business, valuing it at £20 million.

Not long after, in March 2000, they finally rebranded the company into Figleaves. Meanwhile, they also added men’s clothing to appeal to a wider audience.

figleaves old website
Wayback Machine

A year later, Figleaves had grown to the point where it already partnered with supermodels such as Elle Macpherson. By 2003, the firm had already managed to generate over £7 million in annual revenue while employing close to 100 people.

Not only did it receive multiple awards, such as E-tailer of the Year, but Figleaves also officially expanded into the United States, even opening a dedicated office in the country. The U.S. launch was accompanied by a deal that the firm made with Amazon to distribute its product on the marketplace.

Its U.S. business was led by Gerald Smith, a controversial businessman who had previously been sentenced to jail for close to a year. In 2004, Figleaves launched its now-famous T-Bra System, allowing women to automatically find better-fitting bras.

A year later, the firm’s impressive growth was rewarded with a second round of funding, this time led by Balderton Capital. The VC poured acquired a 40-percent stake in Figleaves. The backing even allowed the company to attract high-level executives from companies such as Amazon.

Two years later, in February 2007, long-time CEO and quasi-co-founder Michael Ross departed from the firm and joined Icelandic investor Baugur. He would go on to launch a software solution for the fashion industry, dubbed eCommera, in 2009.

His replacement, Julia Reynolds, was hired eight months later (in October). Reynolds had spent the past two decades working at companies such as Tesco (where she was its Central European clothing boss), Mackays, and Arcardia.  

Figleaves would experience a significant clean-up under her tenure after losses in the previous years had risen to unhealthy levels. In 2006, for example, Figleaves posted a net loss of £4.2 million.  

One of her first points of action was to launch new lines for men and introduce childrenswear to its offering. The firm also cut its brand portfolio by a quarter in order to streamline sales and boost profits. Lastly, the firm negotiated its supplier deals and closed more favorable terms.  

A year later, in April 2009, it launched a clothing line, which was made possible by a £1m investment. This was even more remarkable since the Great Financial Recession had led to diminished consumer confidence and thus decreased willingness to make a purchase – especially online, which was still in its nascent stages.

That same year, Figleaves, furthermore, completely overhauled its website to accommodate the new addition. By March 2010, Figleaves had grown to the point that its own brands, which it launched as soon as 2005, were offered in physical retail stores such as Allders.

This prompted online retailer N Brown Group to churn out £11.5 million to acquire the company. Figleaves had previously hoped to be sold for £40 million. However, due to constraints from the ongoing financial crisis, not many acquirers were willing to invest in other companies.

At the time of the acquisition, Figleaves boasted 1.2 million customers and had 100 different brands in its assortment. The acquisition, furthermore, enabled N Brown Group to expand its brand portfolio to appeal to a younger demographic group.

CEO Reynolds, in May 2011, was poached by Blacks Leisure Group and therefore departed from the company. A departing CEO isn’t too uncommon after an acquisition. Reynolds, in all likeliness, was hired with the implicit goal to make the company acquisition-ready. She was then compensated with equity, which she cashed in during the acquisition.

Instead of directly replacing Reynolds, N Brown Group installed three of Figleave’s executives to co-lead the company. N Brown Group began to pour cash into Figleaves, which used it to purchase expensive ad slots across the nation.

Unfortunately, not all those adverts were being met with love. The company had placed a poster advert featuring a half-naked woman close to where it would be seen by many children. Luckily, Figleaves avoided an advertising ban by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and only received a slap on the wrist.

The next year, in 2012, Figleaves finally posted its first-ever annual profit (£0.2 million) after 14 years of being in business. The first-time profit allowed Figleaves to launch yet another in-house brand.

In August 2013, it launched a dedicated lingerie store for more erotic purposes, calling it “boudoir-inspired.”

Over the coming years, Figleaves introduced a variety of new features and products including personalized recommendations (2015), a mobile-friendly new website (2016), and a live fitting service via Skype (2017), among others.

Meanwhile, its leadership structure changed as well. In February 2017, it hired Miriam Lahage as its newest CEO. Lahage had brought with her decades of industry experience at companies such as TJX, Net-a-Porter, and eBay.

Ironically, co-founder Michael Ross somehow returned to his roots. In January 2018, he became a board member of Figleaves owner N Brown. Unfortunately, in September 2019, Lahage announced her sudden departure from the firm she tried to turn around.

Figleaves, in the previous years, has somehow lost its appeal and suffered from declining customer interest. Online retailers such as ASOS as well as various Instagram-savvy direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands had overtaken Figleaves.

Even exponentially heightened demand for online shopping during the coronavirus pandemic couldn’t stop the company’s demise. In January 2021, N Brown announced that it would sunset the Figleaves website two months later. Customers, as a last thank you, could purchase clothing at discounts of up to 70 percent.

(One unfortunate side-note that needs to be mentioned, though. In April 2021, co-founder Daniel Nabarro, at the age of 72, died after suffering from Alzheimer’s.)

So, why did N Brown shut down a seemingly beloved and established brand after 23 years in business? We’ll discuss that in the following chapter.

Why Was Figleaves Shut Down?

Figleaves was shut down because interest in the company slowly began to fade and because N Brown wanted to streamline its businesses to boost growth.

Over the previous years, interest in Figleaves had diminished quite significantly. This was highlighted by the declining traffic of its website, among others.

As previously stated, the competition had managed to take over. Instagram-focused DTC brands, which often were able to raise millions of funding, soon began to garner the customer’s interest.

Figleave’s Instagram account, for example, has less than 100,000 followers. In comparison, an e-commerce retailer like ASOS, which also sells lingerie, counts over 13 million followers.

It can be assumed that the declining interest probably led to mounting losses given that Figleaves was still employing over 200 people and operating three warehouses in the U.K., the U.S., and Canada.

Moreover, owner N Brown wanted to streamline its brands in an effort to save cost and double down on its core brands. A company spokesperson had this to say after the shutdown announcement:

“Last year we shared a refreshed strategy which included plans to simplify the customer proposition and focus on our five core brands, meaning that other brands are either being folded into the core brands, or closed down. Figleaves is being folded into Simply Be, meaning that the products will be traded from our Head Office in Manchester and fulfilled via our Distribution Centres in Oldham and Hadfield.”

So, Figleaves was ultimately folded into Simply Be. This meant that Figleavesbrands such as Panache, Freya, and Fantasie would now be sold on Simply Be. For reference, N Brown’s other four brands are J D Williams, Ambrose Wilson, Jacamo, and Home Essentials.

Hi folks, Viktor checking in! Years of experience in various tech-related roles have led me to start this blog, which I hope provides you with as much enjoyment to read as I have writing the content.