Calumet & Aurelius criticised for ‘abrupt’ Bowens closure

As Bowens enters liquidation, the group that owns the British lighting marque has come under fire for its handling of the situation.

94-year old lighting manufacturer Bowens has entered into liquidation, it was announced last month. The news comes just one year after the UK-based brand were taken over by European investment firm, Aurelius, who are said to be behind the decision. Bowens cite the rise of “less expensive products by Chinese manufacturers” and “product innovations by competitors”, alongside “the changed buying behaviour of professional photographers” as reasons for the company’s closure.

This is not the first time recently Bowens have been under the spotlight. The brand’s livelihood was the subject of online speculation last year after they unexpectedly pulled out of The Photography Show. Although any concerns were quickly dispelled as Bowens, blaming the prematurity of their “game-changing” Generation X programme for their withdrawal, publicly set out initiatives to “completely re-imagine” the brand, with Aurelius at the helm.

Consequently, last month’s news came as something of a surprise to Bowens’ customers and staff. One former employee said:

“We were aware the company was facing problems and have all been working long days to pull company through a hard time, but we never thought it would end.”

However it is the crude handling of the process that is said to have shocked employees the most. A report on Petapixel details how workers in both the UK and China were allegedly informed they would not be paid for their penultimate month’s work with Bowens, and would be unpaid throughout the work they were nonetheless contractually obliged to complete. This treatment is at odds with the “family” atmosphere Bowens staff describe their workplace as once having.

Former staff in the UK are now said to be exploring the possibility of taking legal action against the company. Meanwhile ex-employees in China have been staging public protests, and have sent a letter to Bowens and Calumet Photo (who were acquired at the same time by Aurelius) distributors in order to express their fury. The employees describe how they were “suddenly abandoned by Bowens… and its shareholders (Aurelius)”, with “no July wages, no social insurance [and] no updated information since Germany let us stop work 17th July”.

Employees protesting about Aurelius, the group that took over Bowens
Employees protesting about Aurelius, the group that took over Bowens (via PetaPixel)

Calumet and Aurelius have since strongly denied all accusations. When asked to comment, Calumet issued statements to Petapixel and DPReview, saying:

“The UK Bowens company has paid all due salaries for July. The allegations been raised about this matter are simply wrong.

“The situation in China is currently under legal advice on the formal filing procedures for liquidation and Bowens UK regrets not to be able to make any payments into China until receiving legal clearance with respect to both liquidations processes.”

Bowens’ abrupt closure is not the “dishonest betrayal” described by ex-members of staff, but rather “the result of far reaching changes affecting its market”, said Calumet and Aurelius. Meanwhile the liquidation process in China is claimed to have been handled “according to all local laws and requirements”.

Jenny Selby