South African retailer Woolworths has booked a 58.3% rise in headline earnings per share for the first half of the year but the underperformance of its clothing division has reportedly prompted a shift in focus to casual and sportswear as demand for formalwear drops.

Headline earnings per share were ZAR261.1cps (US$17) for the 26 weeks to 27 December. Turnover was 5.8% higher at ZAR39.6bn.

In its results statement, management said while it has started the repositioning of its fashion business, “performance remains disappointing” with sales declining 11.2% over the period and comparable-store sales 11% lower on a 2.4% price movement. Online sales were up 118.8% in the division.

Adjusted operating profit for the segment, meanwhile, decreased by 39.9% to ZAR582m, resulting in an operating margin of 9.1% for the half.

The group had announced a strategic review of its fashion unit in September which it said had been plagued by poor execution of fashion ranges and a lack of understanding of its customers, according to a report published by Reuters last week.

The article notes the group is now accelerating a shift towards more casual and sportswear lines as more people are working from home amid the Covid-19 pandemic. It is also ending its Studio.W and WCollection clothing ranges, according to the report, which cites Manie Maritz, managing director of the group’s fashion, beauty and home business in South Africa, as saying: “There’s clearly a need for us to be more relevant in both style and trend but we’re not aspiring to be a high fashion or fast fashion business.

“From a financial point of view, what you’re going to see is an improvement in gross margin, growth in full-price sales, a reduction in markdowns and also reduction in space and hopefully driving up improved turnovers and trading densities.”