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Karen Millen: 'Retail isn't dead'

Karen Millen Image copyright Getty Images

"Retail isn't dead - it's taking a new direction," says designer and retail entrepreneur Karen Millen.

She sold the fashion company that bears her name back in 2004, and it's now been put up for sale again by the bank that currently owns it.

Karen Millen still has an interest in retail though and told BBC Radio 5 live's Wake Up To Money programme that for the High Street to survive, "we have to step back and look where it's going".

This year has been particularly tough for retailers, with businesses such as Topshop and Debenhams having to battle with their creditors to approve Company Voluntary Arrangements (CVAs) which have allowed them to close some stores and cut rents on others.

The High Street has also seen chains going into administration, including the fashion chain Select in May, while figures from the British Retail Consortium this year indicated that one in 10 shops are lying empty in town centres across the UK.

But Ms Millen says High Streets need to make themselves attractive destinations as "it's still about experience".

"People are looking for combining shopping with an experience and social time, a place you can eat, meet friends and shop," she says.

"It's a place where you won't be rushed, and you can find something that is destination-based, whether it's for entertainment, food, products or the environment, and walk away with a gift for the home."

Image caption Karen Millen sold the company that bears her name in 2004

Karen Millen the company is now up for sale. "I think it was inevitable," she says, "it's been owned by a bank for several years now.

"In 2008 when things went crash, it was taken into the ownership of Kaupthing Bank. They don't run businesses, they fund them. We've seen the change in that time. it lost its direction, and I'm surprised they hadn't sold it sooner."

Although Ms Millen parted ways with the store that bears her name, she hopes it does survive.

"I'd like to think it could. I'd like to leave a legacy behind, it's something I'm very proud of, or was proud of, and it does need a new home now."

"Whoever buys it needs to put it back where it needs to be. The structure right now is not working, and it's the same across many High Street stores working on an old model that no longer works.

"Stores need to close, changes need to happen."

'I'm a resilient tough person'

Karen Millen was dealt a blow by HMRC in 2017 when she was declared bankrupt at the High Court over an unpaid tax bill of £6m.

The bill came from her involvement in a tax planning scheme, the validity of it was successfully challenged by HMRC in 2010.

Karen said the bankruptcy was due to poor advice from her accountants. "By having professionals advise me, I believed and listened to them - that's what I paid them to do," she says.

"I thought I was taking care of my affairs, I was advised wrongly and it was unfortunate it ended in bankruptcy. It wasn't a case of the HMRC, it was the advice I got initially, it was the case that the banks were bankrupt - where all my money was invested - so I lost it all, and I couldn't pay the tax."

Karen Millen said she was able to bounce back from the decision. "It was tough; I'm a resilient tough person though," she said.

"I don't like having regrets, I believe in focusing on the future and learning from your mistakes."

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