Cotton On: How rich lister Nigel Austin’s fashion chain is taking on the world

Cotton On: How rich lister Nigel Austin’s fashion chain is taking on the world

Published 28 January 2014 09:41, Updated 29 January 2014 09:29

Sue Mitchell

As a second wave of global retailers prepares to invade Australia, Nigel Austin’s Cotton On Group is vying for the title of the world’s fastest-growing retailer with a “coals to Newcastle” strategy that will see it expand into another half a dozen countries this year.

Cotton On, which now operates in 17 countries, is planning to open stores in Vietnam, Brazil, Panama, Colombia and Venezuela in 2014 and is also looking at markets in sub-Saharan Africa and mainland China.

The retailer has confirmed plans to open 250 stores this year, lifting its global footprint from 1334 to about 1584 and boosting sales by between 35 and 40 per cent. By 2016, the privately owned company plans to have more than 2000 stores, selling low-priced clothing, sourced from China and Bangladesh, to value-conscious consumers around the globe.

Cotton On spokeswoman Greer McCracken says the Geelong-based retailer is unfazed by the imminent arrival of fast fashion chains such as Sweden’s H&M, Japan’s Uniqlo, Forever 21 from the US and River Island from the UK.

“We’ve been in their markets for a long time,” says McCracken. “It’s a good sign with H&M and Uniqlo entering the Australian market. It shows there’s something good going on here.”

While global brands are opening flagship stores in high-profile locations such as Melbourne’s GPO and Emporium and Sydney’s Pitt and George Streets, Cotton On has taken a different tack, favouring less-expensive stores in regional shopping centres.

Austin co-founded Cotton On in 1991 and, now 43, was valued at $250 millionon the 2013 BRW Rich 200. He is the son of Grant Austin, co-founder of former Geelong-based clothing wholesaler Austin Group.

The company expanded interstate in 1994, diversified into children’s wear in 2005, crossed the Tasman in 2006 and has since moved into countries, such as the US, South Africa, Germany, Thailand, Indonesia and the UAE. Cotton On now has seven brands, including Cotton On Body, Rubi shoes, TBar, Factorie and Typo.

Late last year Cotton On acquired discount chain Supre and lured one of Australia’s best fashion retailers, Sportsgirl chief Elle Roseby, to take Supre into new markets and categories.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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