River Island History- The Story

River Island is a famous high-street fashion brand with over 50 years in the fashion industry. The brand provides customers with fashion clothing and accessories while paying close attention to fashion’s design, trend, quality, and cultural values. 

River Island balances healthy trends, comfort, style, and environmental care as a brand bent on providing clients with the best fashion accessories, clothing, and services. Before you continue reading this article, there’s one thing you should know. 

River Island started by selling vegetables. And now, almost every shopping complex in the United Kingdom and several countries worldwide has a River Island store. But instead of selling vegetables, River Island has exquisite collections of stylish clothing and accessories, making it very popular in the fashion industry. 

This article highlights River Island’s history and how the brand finally got its name. River Island history will be discussed under the following headings. 

  • River Island History 
  • River Island History: Rihanna’s Advertising Campaign 
  • River Island History: Style and Layout 
  • River Island: Ethical Issues 
  • River Island: Environmental Issues 
  • River Island: Achievements 
  • River Island: Corporate Social Responsibility 

River Island History

River Island is a famous fashion chain in the United Kingdom established in 1948 by Bernard Lewis. Before he went into the fashion industry, Bernard Lewis first sold fruits and vegetables to the locals in London. But this line of business didn’t amount to much for him, and shortly after, he proceeded to sell knitting wool at a site in East End, London.

The wool business sold more than the fruits and vegetables and took off quicker, and not long after, Bernard was joined by his three brothers. The four brothers decided to expand the company, and under the name of Lewis Separates Stores, they opened five stores across London. The business grew, and by 1955, the brothers had nine Lewis Separates Stores all over London. 

The 1960’s

In 1965, Bernard Lewis had grown from selling fruits and vegetables to the locals in London to owning a shared company with 70 stores scattered around London.

In the 1960s, the Lewis brothers decided to rebrand Lewis Separates Stores, and they did so because Chelsea was quickly becoming the go-to city for pop culture and fashion. 

They renamed the brand Chelsea Girl, and it became the first fashion brand to open a store in the United Kingdom that would appeal to females. 

The Late 1970’s

Towards the end of the 1970s, the Lewis brothers split up, and Chelsea Girl was left in the care of Bernard and David Lewis. David Lewis decided to venture into the property and investment niche shortly after. 

David Lewis opened the Lewis Trust Group, which was co-owned by Bernard. The Trust Group became the umbrella name for Chelsea Girl and all the new hotels and properties that David acquired over time. 

David left Bernard in charge of Chelsea Girl retail and fashion to focus more on the property and investment niche. 

The 1980s and The Rebrand 

Following the demand for men’s clothing, Concept Man was established in 1982 and became a branch of Chelsea Girl that focused on men’s needs. 

The branch sold footwear, accessories, and clothing for men. With the new responsibility of attending to the needs of everyone, business at Chelsea Girl and Concept Man took a giant leap. 

In 1988, six years after Concept Man was introduced, Bernard Lewis merged Concept Man and Chelsea Girl and named them River Island, the brand’s name to date. 

The 1990s and Beyond

After naming the fashion brand River Island, it became a spot where males and females shopped for fashion accessories, clothes, and footwear. 

In 1993, Bernard Lewis opened his first shop in Ireland, and in the next two decades, he went on to open stores in Poland, Russia, and areas in the Middle East. River Island introduced kids’ shoes and clothing in 2010, and with that addition, the brand became even more popular.

This meant that a family could shop at River Island, and they would find the proper attire for everyone. In 2011, Chelsea Girl returned to River Island as a feature brand within the retail shops. 

River Island: Rihanna’s Advertising Campaign

2013 came with a business boost for River Island following Rihanna’s advertising campaign for the brand. When it was apparent that the pop star’s involvement with the brand increased their sales, they launched The Rihanna for River Island collection. 

The pop star modeled all the featured clothes herself, and teenagers and young women purchased many of the items, making the clothes in constant high demand. Different clothing styles were made available for the different seasons, and this gave patrons the chance to buy playsuits, swimwear, sweaters, and cardigans for suitable seasons. 

River Island: Style and Layout

River Island’s prices are affordable, and both male and female clothes, fashion accessories, and footwear are made for people aged 16 to 30. The in-house designers ensure that they represent the culture that customers understand. 

River Island combines smart-looking and casual styles, and with glitter, sequins, diamonds, and jewels, the brand adds an extra shine that will appeal to its younger market. This extra shine is also added to the bags and purses for complimentary reasons. 

To provide its customers with the best looks and styles, River Island has a team of designers stationed in its London headquarters. These in-house designers also have a comfortable working environment to work efficiently. 

River Island stores located in different parts of the world have similar layouts and decorations. Its general colors are bright green and white, which stirs a natural, fresh feeling in customers. The floors in all River Island stores are laid with black paneling and cream coffee tiles. The stores are lit with bright spotlights that give them an exclusive look. The stores each have open-air spaces that double as a background for the clothes to stand out in terms of customer comfort. 

Generally, River Island stores are walk-in boutiques where fashion trends and styles are divided into sections to help customers quickly find whatever they want. 

River Island: Ethical Issues

In terms of ethical issues, River Island takes its corporate social responsibility seriously as it strives to create a balance between running its business and fending for its employees and the environments it operates from.

River Island provides excellent support for its employees and consumers and focuses on establishing quality relationships between the parties contributing to its growth. 

Apart from its employees, River Island also works with its suppliers to provide health standards and safety regulations for its business partners. River Island suppliers sign a contract that commits them to the World Wide Ethical Standards. 

River Island sends out its buying and technical units yearly to visit factories and watch out for and fix any mistakes they notice to support this contract. 

With many of its products made across Europe, Turkey, and India, River Island ensured that any defaulters would be prosecuted according to the law. 

River Island: Environmental Issues

Organizations are concerned with the state of the environment that they operate in, and River Island is one of such organisations. 

River Island ensures that the environment maintains its green state and, as such, commits itself to carrying out the following duties. 

  • Limiting the way they package their products. 
  • Increasing the rate at which they recycle their products and their use of biodegradable materials. 
  • Reducing the level of renewable energy sources and energy consumption. 

River Island takes the well-being of the environment seriously. The fashion brand also takes it to heart to provide quality customer relationships with their clients. 

River Island still contributes to environmental development by scouting and finding new talents that will contribute to high street fashion. With each new year, new collections are required to meet the needs of clients worldwide. These new talents emerge with refreshing ideas and fashion styles for the Style Challenge that River Island holds biweekly. 

The recruitment is done to ensure that members of the society have jobs and patrons have styles that will suit them. 

River Island: Achievements

River Island has won many important titles, and it doesn’t matter that the brand takes some of them from its competitors. 

For three years, Top Shop has been the winner of both the Style Crown and Best Shop on the High Street titles, but the brand lost these titles to River Island in 2007. 

Likewise, River Island has also won the Best Bags and Best Place to Spend GBP50 categories featured in the Company Magazine. 

The winners of these categories were selected by over 6,000 people who voted through the company.co.uk website, signifying that the people preferred the River Island style over any other brands. 

River Island: Corporate Social Responsibility

River Island believes that fashion is not only meant for those who lead luxurious lifestyles but encompasses all of humanity as well. 

On that note, River Island supports the Birth Defect Foundation (BDF), which is now known as New Life Foundation. The fashion brand also contributes to the purpose of Heart and Design, a community that combines lungs and heart treatment with fashion creativity. 

River Island’s philosophy is that the proceeds from its sales are used to make lives easier for the sick and people with special needs. 

River Island History—Success Strategies

With over 250 stores worldwide, River Island has won the award and is considered one of the most successful and U.K.’s most significant privately owned high street companies. On the surface, it’s easy to pinpoint the brand’s success to the desire to provide its customers with a great, fashionable, and unique look. Also, unlike other high street stores that buy products from different brands and redesign or alter them, River Island has its in-house designers. Therefore, they focus on providing customers with the hottest look.

River Island also provides a conducive work environment. This practice is said to bring out the best in employees, foster efficiency, and bring out the best. Another obvious strategy is that the stores belonging to River Island worldwide usually have the same design in layout and decoration. You’ll most likely find a white wall with a bit of emphasis on bright green. The combination is said to bring a feeling of freshness. The floor is usually laid with creamy coffee color tiles with black paneling.

They design the stores to have an open air space to give customers a relaxed and comfortable feeling. The layout is more like a walk-in boutique where you can find what you need in sections. Therefore, customers can walk in and know exactly where to go to get what they need.

These are a few of the noticeable success strategies known to River Island, and they have, without doubt, contributed immensely to the business’s success.


River Island remains one of the UK’s most preferred high-street fashion stores and currently has over 350 stores worldwide. Will Kernan is the current CEO of River Island, and with the new collections introduced yearly, River Island has come a long way from that fruit and vegetable store. 

River Island operates mainly in the United Kingdom and Ireland but has six websites that have made shopping accessible to any client in any part of the world. These websites feature four different currencies and ship off quality men’s and women’s clothing and accessories to over 100 countries worldwide.

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River Island History- The Story River Island is one of the UK's leading brands that has grown from a fruits and vegetable business to an iconic fashion brand. Read this article to find out more about River Island's history.
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