In March this year, I found myself in Heathrow Terminal 2 about to journey to the other side of the world. (This was before the pandemic demanded any meaningful attention, obvs.) On the way to Heathrow (I travel by bus), the zip on my handbag decided to die. Not wanting to hop about the southern hemisphere with my personal chattels at risk of dissemination, I decided that the only thing to do was to buy a new form of portable personal-item storage on arrival at the airport. I had plenty of choice. (Despite it being only Terminal 2.)
There was a briefcase at Smythson’s of Bond Street that I fell in love with, but was not so enamoured of its £1,000 price tag.
There were also some appealing little numbers at Kate Spade.
A tad nearer my price range… but still out of it.
Then I saw that the Cath Kidston shop was having a sale. In I went and snapped up a bargain. I was never a fan of the retro-floral-print vibe but I was prepared to compromise as I had an urgent need to make sure that, at least, my passport was safe as I sashayed between continents. I transferred the contents of the offending handbag to the new one and stuffed the old one in a recycling container. (There is probably CCTV footage of that incident, and maybe MI5 handlers are still considering whether I have offloaded unlawful amounts of duty-free.)
Armed with my new (and bargain) (and fully functional) handbag, off I went to the southern hemisphere. I didn’t stay there long. (A pandemic will do that to your travel plans.)
What was surprising was to stumble back to Blighty to discover that the Cath Kidston chain will not reopen any of its high-street shops when the lockdown ends. That salvation moment in Terminal 2 will be the first and last of my Cath Kidston store “moments”.
What happened? Cath Kidston was an iconic brand that seemed to be doing so well (despite having a sale at Terminal 2).
The Cath Kidston story all began in 1993 with a small shop in West London, selling car-boot finds and vintage fabric…
Cath began to design and produce her own prints and products. If you wanted a flowery ironing-board cover or a hand-embroidered tea towel, you knew where to go.
The mania spread. In 2006, Cath Kidston opened its first international store in Tokyo.
In 2010, Kidston received an MBE for her services to business.
In 2013, Cath Kidston celebrated reaching £100 million in sales for its 20th anniversary.
Despite me not warming to the retro product, plenty of people did.
“People either love it and want a little bit of it very much, or want to stab us,” Cath Kidston herself told BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2011.
However, the firm called in administrators in April.
The British high street was under pressure before the UK’s lockdown even began. The owner of Cath Kidston (no longer Cath, obvs, but the Hong Kong-based private equity firm she sold her company to, Baring Private Equity Asia) has made a deal to buy back the brand and its online operations, but this does not include the brick-and-mortar shops.
The closure of stores will lead to the loss of around 900 jobs.
My handbag and its like was a desirable but discretionary purchase. I wouldn’t have bought it if I hadn’t been banjaxed. Now it appears we don’t desire niche products in high-footfall high-rent locations half as much as we once did.
Play Russian roulette with your life to acquire a tea towel? In this post-Covid 19 world, we’re only doing that for flour.