Apparel chains struggle as Greek crisis takes toll

Greece was once viewed as the ?best-kept secret? among foreign luxury brands wishing to expand. The remark was made back in 2008 by the then president and CEO of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton?s Celine fashion brand, Serge Brunschwig. At that time the firm was already operating two stores in Athens and making plans for more outlets.

That was then. Now the collections of the famous brand are available at Greece?s Carouzos chain of stores, which recently sought protection from its creditors.

Firms are trying to adapt to the new economic environment. This goes even for low-end retailers that have also been hit by the country?s recession, currently in its fifth year.

In a sign of the hard times that the market is currently going through, in 2011 the Greek branch of Spanish retail giant Zara posted a loss for the first time in its 20-year presence in the country.

Greece?s apparel/footwear market has shrunk by 50 percent since 2007. Meanwhile its value has declined from 7 billion euros in 2007 to just 3.5 billion now. In this context, even big groups like Spain?s Inditex, owner of the Zara clothing brand, are being forced to make adjustments.

The chain last year cut down the number of stores here by six. It currently numbers 160 outlets among its eight sales formats, which include Zara, Zara Home, Pull