Arcadia Group, the owner of high street fashion brands including Topman, Topshop and Dorothy Perkins, has collapsed into administration.
The firm has hired administrators from Deloitte after the pandemic “severely impacted” sales across its brands.
The group, which runs 444 stores in the UK and 22 overseas, said 9,294 employees are currently on furlough.
No redundancies are being announced yet as a result of the appointment and stores will continue to trade, the administrators said.
Up to 15,000 workers face losing their jobs if the company – which is owned by owned by one of the country’s richest men, Sir Philip Green – ultimately goes under.
Ian Grabiner, chief executive of Arcadia, said: “This is an incredibly sad day for all of our colleagues as well as our suppliers and our many other stakeholders.
“The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, including the forced closure of our stores for prolonged periods, has severely impacted on trading across all of our brands.
“Throughout this immensely challenging time our priority has been to protect jobs and preserve the financial stability of the group in the hope that we could ride out the pandemic and come out fighting on the other side.
“Ultimately, however, in the face of the most difficult trading conditions we have ever experienced, the obstacles we encountered were far too severe.”
Matt Smith, joint administrator at Deloitte, said: “We will now work with the existing management team and broader stakeholders to assess all options available for the future of the group’s businesses.
“It is our intention to continue to trade all of the brands, and we look forward to welcoming customers back into stores when many of them are allowed to reopen.
“We will be rapidly seeking expressions of interest and expect to identify one or more buyers to ensure the future success of the businesses.
“As administrators we’d like to thank all of the group’s employees, customers and business partners for their support, at what we appreciate is a difficult time.”
Earlier on Monday, Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group said an offer for a £50 million lifeline for Arcadia was rejected.
There was anger from staff last week, many of whom found out the company was on the brink from the press before hearing from their own employer.
Arcadia’s response was to email employees a generic statement about “media speculation” it had also sent to the press, despite two major outlets having independently stood the story up.
“I think the worst thing is that it was on the news before we were told anything,” one worker told HuffPost UK. “It’s been all over the work WhatsApp all morning. Some staff members saw it before even management did. That email doesn’t really tell us much either. People are certainly panicking.”
They added: “It would be a nightmare [if thousands of people lost their jobs] there won’t be enough jobs to go round, a lot of the shops in this town have closed as well, I have already started looking and jobs in fashion retail just aren’t there. I think a lot of people will look at supermarkets instead.”
Arcadia Group became part of Taveta Investments, owned by Sir Philip and his family, in 2002.
Sir Philip’s retail empire embarked upon a major restructuring process last year to cut costs.
Since the start of the pandemic, 500 jobs have been lost at the mogul’s company.
It is the latest retailer to have been hammered by the closure of stores in the face of coronavirus, with rivals including Debenhams, Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group and Oasis Warehouse all sliding into insolvency since the pandemic struck in March.
Business secretary Alok Sharma said he would be keeping a “very close eye” on the administrators’ report on director conduct, and pledged the government would support the affected workers.
He tweeted: “Within three months, the administrators have a duty to file a report on director conduct with The Insolvency Service – who will then determine whether a full investigation is required. I will be keeping a very close eye on this process.”
Sharma added: “This is a deeply challenging time for retailers and we remain fully committed to supporting them, including through an unprecedented package of business support worth £280 billion.”
Retail trade union Usdaw has said it is seeking urgent meetings with Arcadia’s administrators in a bid to preserve jobs.
Dave Gill, Usdaw national officer, said: “Now that Arcadia is in administration, it is crucial that the voice of staff is heard over the future of the business and that is best done through their trade union.
“We are seeking urgent meetings and need assurances on what efforts are being made to save jobs, the plan for stores to continue trading and the funding of the pension scheme.
“In the meantime, we are providing our members with the support and advice they need at this very difficult time.”