Edinburgh Woollen Mill on the brink with 21,000 jobs at risk

Retail group established by Philip Day, which includes Peacocks and Jaeger, faces crunch talks

EWM
Sources admitted parts of the business will face liquidation ­having been “blown to bits” in the ­pandemic Credit: Matthew Horwood/Getty 

The knitwear mogul Philip Day is this weekend making frantic efforts to ­salvage his retail empire from a total collapse that threatens to exile him from the high street.

The owner of Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group (EWM) has only days to convince administrators not to seize control, with 21,000 jobs in 1,100 stores at risk.

Mr Day, who founded the company nearly two decades ago and built it up via acquisitions of brands including Ponden Home, Peacocks and Jaeger, is working on complicated rescue proposals at his home in Switzerland.

However, with grim prospects for parts of the business, thousands of job losses are expected as soon as this week.

The self-made Cumbrian has concluded that banks will not lend to EWM in its ­current state. Credit insurers have withdrawn cover, meaning it is effectively unable to trade.

Mr Day is now due to present his rescue ideas in a last-ditch conference call tomorrow with the insolvency specialists FRP Advisory, before a court hearing on Thursday at the latest.

A US fund that invests in distressed companies is in talks to take a stake in Peacocks Credit: Matthew Horwood /Getty 

The firm is due to put EWM into administration if it is not ­convinced creditors will end up better off if the deadline is extended.

Sources close to Mr Day admitted parts of the business will face liquidation ­having been “blown to bits” in the ­pandemic.

“It will be really difficult defending the business when it doesn’t have a ­customer,” an insider said. “This situation is an absolute bummer.”

The Edinburgh Woollen Mill itself is viewed as especially vulnerable. The chain, which employs 7,000, is heavily dependent on deserted tourist spots and older customers who do not shop online despite the pandemic.

Mr Day is exploring whether stores could be mothballed until shoppers return, but such a move would be difficult, requiring the help of landlords.

Sources close to Mr Day said he may seek to retain the Edinburgh Woollen Mill brand via a potentially controversial “pre-pack” administration that would mean the closure of all the stores and heavy losses for creditors.

Other EWM brands such as Austin Reed and Viyella may face a similar fate.

Mr Day is meanwhile attempting to secure ­outside investment to save his stronger businesses. He is in talks for Davidson Kempner, a US fund that invests in distressed companies, to take a stake in Peacocks, which has 550 stores and specialises in cheap clothes.

Jaeger, which is run by Mr Day’s daughter, is up for sale and has attracted competing bids but may survive only as a brand rather than a retailer.

However, for the talks to continue, FRP must be convinced there is a realistic prospect of deals that would mean suppliers, landlords and other creditors get paid.

It is possible that individual retailers within EWM could be granted a stay of execution for 10 more days, while others are forced under. Alternatively FRP could agree to extend the whole process or call time on the whole thing.

The crisis has put a big dent in Mr Day’s fortune, which was estimated at more than £1bn last year.

Most of his wealth is tied up in his ­businesses, ­however, which he could now lose.  Mr Day is the biggest creditor to EWM.

A spokesman for the company said: “We are doing everything we can to save jobs.”