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

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 4 days ago Christopher Williams
a person holding a sign in front of a building: EWM - Matthew Horwood/Getty  © Matthew Horwood/Getty EWM - 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.

a person standing on a sidewalk: Peacocks - Matthew Horwood /Getty © Provided by The Telegraph Peacocks - Matthew Horwood /Getty

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 Credit insurers have withdrawn cover, meaning it is effectively unable to trade.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.

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.

A notice pasted inside the window of a closed branch of The Edinburgh Woollen Mill explains reasons for it's closure, in Edinburgh on October 9, 2020. - Edinburgh Woollen Mill appointed administrators and warned of significant cuts Friday, as the company's 24,000 employees face an uncertain future. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP) (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images) A notice pasted inside the window of a closed branch of The Edinburgh Woollen Mill explains reasons for it's closure, in Edinburgh on October 9, 2020. - Edinburgh Woollen Mill appointed administrators and warned of significant cuts Friday, as the company's 24,000 employees face an uncertain future. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP) (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

“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.

People stand outside a closed branch of The Edinburgh Woollen Mill in Edinburgh on October 9, 2020. - Edinburgh Woollen Mill appointed administrators and warned of significant cuts Friday, as the company's 24,000 employees face an uncertain future. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP) (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images) People stand outside a closed branch of The Edinburgh Woollen Mill in Edinburgh on October 9, 2020. - Edinburgh Woollen Mill appointed administrators and warned of significant cuts Friday, as the company's 24,000 employees face an uncertain future. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP) (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

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.

PENARTH, WALES - OCTOBER 10: A close-up of an Edinburgh Woollen Mill store sign on October 10, 2020 in Penarth, Wales. Many UK businesses are announcing job losses due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images) © 2020 Matthew Horwood PENARTH, WALES - OCTOBER 10: A close-up of an Edinburgh Woollen Mill store sign on October 10, 2020 in Penarth, Wales. Many UK businesses are announcing job losses due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

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.”

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