Express files for bankruptcy as consumers shift to casual fashion

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Express, once a staple in malls across the country, filed for bankruptcy Monday as consumers continue to shift away from formal and business attire and lean into casual and comfort.

The company, which includes menswear brand Bonobos and clothing brand UpWest, said it will close 95 Express locations and all 10 UpWest stores. Closing sales will begin Tuesday. The Chapter 11 filing will not affect the online or app shopping experience.

In a news release, the Columbus, Ohio-based retailer said it plans to operate as usual while it begins the process for a court-supervised sale. WHP Global, Simon Property Group and Brookfield Properties intend to purchase a majority of the company’s retail stores and operations.

“Express has a strong portfolio of brands and a premier omnichannel platform,” said Express chief executive Stewart Glendinning. “Our top priority remains providing our customers with the contemporary styles and value they expect from us.”

Express has seen its sales crater even though the broader apparel sector is strong. Part of the problem has been that the company’s more formal offerings suffered as work-from-home trends contributed to a broader “casualization” of fashion, GlobalData managing director Neil Saunders said in a note.

“This puts Express firmly on the wrong side of trends, and, in our view, the chain made too little effort to adapt,” Saunders said.

He added that the company’s retail assortment is generally overpriced, lacks differentiation and “comes across as very bland,” making it less relevant to the consumer of 2024.

Express ran an operating loss of $28.7 million on $454.1 million in net sales for the third quarter of 2023, the most recent period for which it posted financial results.

In a call with investors in November, Glendinning said there was a need to “reinvigorate our brand Express performance and build a stronger foundation on which to build our company’s potential.” He pointed to declining foot traffic and “missteps” in the company’s merchandising strategy, among other challenges.

The company was removed from the New York Stock Exchange in early March after its average market capitalization stayed below the $15 million minimum for too long.

The store closures and bankruptcy filing are part of a broader plan to cut costs, while executives said the partnership with WHP will put resources behind a turnaround effort.

“WHP has been a strong partner to the company since 2023, and the proposed transaction will provide us additional financial resources, better position the business for profitable growth and maximize value for our stakeholders,” Glendinning said.

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