Fashion Brand Express Inc. Files for Bankruptcy, Shuts Nearly 100 Stores

Once a mainstay in malls across America, the Express clothing store has now been forced to file for bankruptcy protection.

This week, the company announced that it was filing for bankruptcy and would be shutting almost 100 stores. At the same time, the company said it was seeking a plan that would allow it to come through bankruptcy and still operate, including potentially being sold to someone else.

When malls in America were in their heyday, Express was one of the most popular and successful stores. Many different generations shopped there, which eventually led to the company acquiring other brands such as UpWest and Bonobos.

But, as mall shopping has faded significantly in recent years, Express has experienced big downticks in revenue and profit — just like a lot of other chain stores that had heavy presences in shopping malls.

In addition to changing shopping habits, Express has been particularly hard hit by the fact that people dress differently for work nowadays than they did not long ago. Workers today dress more casual and not as “cookie-cutter” as they once did.

Express fell right in between being inexpensive and high-end, which actually left it in an awkward position that shoppers have seemed to abandon in recent years. That caused it to fall far behind some of its competitors, which resulted in them taking on debt and having trouble paying rent for many of its locations.

As part of the bankruptcy announcement released Monday, the company also said it would be closing all 10 of its UpWest stores and 95 of its Express stores. That represents a little less than 20% of its total store footprint.

This follows the company’s delisting from the New York Stock Exchange last month due to the fact that its stock price continued to languish.

Even with this week’s announcement, though, it’s possible Express stores could still be in operation throughout the country. The company has already received an acquisition bid from a consortium that includes two major operators of malls — Brookfield Properties and Simon Property Group — as well as WHP Global, a brand management company.

These three companies have been investing in retail brands over the last few years that have fallen on similar tough times.

Back in November Stewart Glendinning, the CEO of Express, told investors there were “missteps” in the clothing selection in the store, “most notably in women’s, where we were out of balance across categories, price points and wearing occasions.”

He added at the time:

“We believe strongly there’s a path to total company improvement.”

Now, it seems as though that improvement, if it comes at all, will have to come from new owners.

As part of the bankruptcy announcement, Express also said it was receiving an infusion of $35 million of new financing from some lenders, and another $49 million from the IRS related to the CARES Act, the federal relief package passed in spring of 2020 by Congress.