Our History

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From humble beginnings selling clothing on the Manchester streets to a massive multi-channel retailer with 4.2 million customers, the N Brown story is one of incredible success and heritage driven by a passion for fashion and an obsession with the customer. And it’s never been a more exciting time to join us. As well as providing fashion for all, we’ve branched out to offer homeware, beauty essentials and more choice than ever before. We’ve invested massively in technology; the way we buy, merchandise and market our products and services have never been better; and we’re really excited about creating the next chapter in our history. And speaking of which, here’s a quick look back …

The 1800's

James David Williams
started running
three mobile shops

Our story began all the way back in 1859 when Manchester entrepreneur and innovator James David Williams started running three mobile shops and also took orders by letter. His business was so successful he founded JD Williams in 1875. Seven years later he revolutionised his business by becoming the first person to use the Post Office’s new Parcel Post service to deliver goods quickly and cheaply to a growing number of eager customers.

The 1920's to 1960's

In 1921 JD Williams
became a private

In 1921 JD Williams became a private company, which took over from the original business founded in 1875. We enjoyed steady growth and attracted more and more customers until in 1963 the JD Williams family sold their shares to a subsidiary of the Alliance Brothers. This heritage continues to this day with Baron Alliance GBE serving as a non-executive director of our parent company, the N Brown Group.

The 1960's to 1990's

Over the next
three decades we
continued to grow

In 1969 we acquired Ambrose Wilson – the biggest mail-order corsetry house in the world at the time. Over the next three decades we continued to grow, acquiring several more businesses. Up until 1990, our target market had traditionally been ladies over the age of 50; but that year we took the first big step into diversifying our portfolio by launching Fashion World – a new catalogue title designed to capture a younger age range.

The 1990's

We branched out into
other areas of the
retail market

Throughout the 90s we branched out into other areas of the retail market, including menswear and womenswear for the over-60s. Buoyed by the success of Fashion World, we launched Simply Be in 1999 and became industry leaders in on-trend, fashion conscious, plus size clothing for style-conscious younger women.

2000's onwards

We make our mark
on the high street

In 2009 we made our first move onto the high street by purchasing the outsize retailer High and Mighty. Our portfolio grew again in 2010, when we acquired online lingerie specialist Figleaves to reinforce our market-leading position selling underwear on the internet.

Then in 2011 we expanded in an exciting new direction and made our mark on the high street with the launch of the very first Simply Be store in the heart of Liverpool city centre. We then introduced Jacamo to the high street with resounding success.

Now, we’ve 15 Simply Be and Jacamo stores across the UK and we’re also making waves across the pond with Simply Be USA.


We're more than just
a successful

With an £800 million plus turnover, we’re more than just a successful company – we’re a model of excellence. What makes us so successful is our uncompromising commitment to providing stylish, trend-aware fashion for women and men of all shapes and sizes. Proud to lead the way for plus-size fashion, we’re dedicated to quality, value for money and excellent customer care. From young to old, we offer something for everyone and embrace and celebrate the individuality of our customers across our fantastic brands.

Of course, we’re proud of our history, but we’re even more excited about our future.

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