River Island

River Island: British multi-channel brand

River Island is best known for its trend-focused womenswear offering. However, it also carries collections of men’s, children’s and even pet clothing.

River Island’s collections are designed entirely at the brand’s West London headquarters. It was one of the first vertical fashion retailers in the UK.

To date, it is present in over 125 world markets, both in physical stores and online.


Bernard Lewis & family
Bernard Lewis, founder of River Island

The entrepreneur Bernard Lewis is the founder of the brand. In 1948, in Notting Hill, he began selling fruit and vegetables at an old bomb site.

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Notting Hill

Shortly thereafter, he opened his second website, calling it The Wool Shop , and began selling wool knitwear as well as a small amount of women’s clothing.

With this move, Lewis responds to the need to respond to the demand for women’s clothing in the post-war period. He therefore understands that women’s clothing is the future of business, so he starts making clothes. Thus, the company sold its first self-made design in 1950: a white lace-trimmed blouse with cap sleeves.

Along with his 3 brothers, Lewis started a chain of nine stores called Lewis Separates.

To this day, the chain continues to remain privately owned and always owned by the Lewis family.

THE 60’S

During the 60’s, the company became influential in the fashion scene.

Indeed, by 1965 Lewis Separates owned 70 stores in the UK.

Given this surprising growth of the brand, it was decided to give the brand a new identity. Lewis Separates was, therefore, renamed Chelsea Girl.

The inspiration came from the name of the brand’s store on King’s Road in Chelsea, a neighborhood which at the time was a center for fashion, music and pop culture.

Chelsea Girl had a good time making the mini dress iconic.

Bernard Lewis had declared that the company had decided to orient production in favor of mini dresses to respond to the strong sales that occurred between the spring and autumn of 1965.

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Contemporary version of the mini dress

The name Chelsea Girl was revived in 2011, with a capsule collection in the UK shops focused on retro styles.

In 2022, Chelsea Girl is being revamped to focus on younger consumers and is aimed at the “new generation of Chelsea girls”.


In the 80s, the company introduced the menswear section for the first time, by the will of Leonard Lewis, son of Bernard, under the name of Concept Man Brand. This new section has been joined by the Chelsea Girl inside the shops, usually on the first floor of the premises.

In 1988, the company opened a store in Exeter, naming it after a trip by Leonard Lewis on the Thames. The business was so successful that the entire business was renamed after that store’s name: River Island.

Between the 90s and 2000s, the brand grew rapidly, placing its attention on new trends and designs conceived by in-house stylists. What’s more, it was one of the first retailers to put its collections online in the 1990s.

Today, River Island is headquartered in West London.


River Island has always been managed by its founders, then by the Lequis family through the Lewis Trust Group.

Historically, the company has been led by the same family members, first by Bernard and then by his sons Clive and Leonard, as well as by his grandson Ben. The latter managed the company for nine years, until 2019. To this day, the Lewis family is still very close to the management, but they are no longer the sole directors.

Ben Lewis, CEO, River Island
Ben Lewis

Ben Lewis chose as his own successor as CEO in the personality of Will Kernan. Kernan has managed to grow digital and international operations, in order to make the brand more competitive against other resellers.


As early as 2008, the brand had adopted contents suitable for online sales, as well as had opened a site with blogs, news on trends and the proposal of new styles, together with the e-commerce offer.

In recent years, River Island has invested large capitals (£1.5 million between 2018 and 2019) in its multi-channel offering, especially in the technology, logistics and supply chain sectors.

In fact, already in 2018, the former CEO Ben Lewis had said:

“We want to be a leading retailer, but we also want to be a tech company that sets itself as a leader”.


In 1993, River Island opened its first shop outside of Great Britain, in Ireland, in Dublin, precisely on Grafton Street. In 2006 it opened a store in Amsterdam and from there it rapidly expanded throughout Europe and, subsequently, overseas.

To date, River Island ships to 125 countries globally and works in partnership with wholesalers such as Alshaya, Namshi and Zalando.

In 2021, River Island also arrived in the United States and Canada, in collaboration with the Canadian chain The Bay and with the US Nordstrom.


The sales of River Island have dropped dramatically, due to quarantine measures and the consequent closure of stores in Great Britain. The loss was £36.2 million, compared to an annual profit of £21.4 million in 2019.


In addition to the men’s and women’s collections, River Island in 2009 launched the maternity collection, the following year the children’s collection and in 2018 that newborns.

The brand’s e-commerce, again from that year, also sells products from third-party brands such as Birkenstock, Superga and Sketchers.

Birkenstock white Arizona sandals | River Island
Birkenstock white Arizona sandals on River Island

She had also started a home decor collection, which however, had to stop in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Since 2022, it has also been involved in the beauty sector and also has a small offer of fragrances from the Revolution and Villa Liberata.


In 2013, singer Rihanna participated in three collections with River Island, in collaboration with her personal stylist, Adam Selman. The first collection was shown to the public during London Fashion Week and the launch took place in November.

In June 2022, the brand began a collaboration with model and social media star Sofia Richie, the daughter of singer Lionel Richie. The advertising campaign for the capsule was shot in California, the Richie’s homeland, and the collection was made available both online and in stores.


River Island works regularly with a variety of charities, helping them raise funds. In particular: the charity Mind and with Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, to raise awareness about breast cancer. He presented a range of T-shirts in order to raise money for Breast Cancer Now. The firm has also previously worked with UK Black Pride, Age UK and Place2Be.

Graduate Fashion Week

From 2005 to 2011, River Island was a sponsor of Graduate Fashion Week, providing sponsorship and mentorship for graduates.

London Fashion Week and the British Fashion Council

As of 2012, River Island is a patron of the British Fashion Council and London Fashion Week. Their program supports and promotes the British fashion industry.

competition was heldMusic Meets Fashionorganized by River Island, MTV, ICEBERG and the British Fashion Council. The contest asked fashion design students to create a collection that blends the elements of music, fashion and sustainability.  Lucy Saunders was the winner.

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Lucy Saunders, winner of the contest

The girl showed her collection at London Fashion Week in February 2021. In accompaniment, there was a performance by the singer Griff. 


In 2020 River Island launched a new sustainability strategy, aligned with the sustainable development project proposed by the Nations Unite

Later, River Island was named as one of the top 10 fastest moving entities in the 2020 Fashion Transparency Index.

In addition to other charitable initiatives, River Island has an ongoing relationship with Newlife, a charity that works to support disabled and terminally ill children. This body was founded in 1991 by former River Island MD Leonard Lewis.

Additionally, River Island donates stock to be recycled and resold. In 2021, 850,000 garments were reused or recycled through this partnership.

In fact, the brand even donate 100% of the UK carrier bag levy to the charity, which has raised £3 million since 2016.

River Island is a signatory to several sustainability pledges and partnerships , including the Bangladesh Accord, the Carbon Trust, WRAP and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

Additionally, it has made a pledge to use 100% more sustainable cotton by 2023, in partnership with the BCI.

Most recently, River Island announced that it has joined the Microfibre Consortium, Canopy and has become a signatory to the Textiles 2030 Agreement.

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Stella Maxwell