We’re definitely not going no frills for the AW20 season. Designers from Stefan Cooke to Louis Vuitton to JW Anderson showed their own take on the male waist frill, or peplum, and it looked good.
Left - Stefan Cooke AW20 at LFWM
Originating from the Greek word for tunic, Stefan Cooke's peplum looked like a pleated micro kilt, while Virgil Abloh at LV went full on evening ruffle. JW Anderson has always liked a frill and his were low on the hips, elongating the body.
So there you are, it's official, hips are to not be square and there's no such thing as a cheap frill!!!!
Below Left - Louis Vuitton AW20
Below - JW Anderson AW20
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The ‘Lustre Solo’ is a new wireless acne treatment product. It uses advanced blue light technology in a mobile device, allowing “acne sufferers to treat their skin on the go”.
The solo works by killing bacteria under the skin. The spot causing bacteria, P. acnes produce a normally harmless chemical called Porphyrin. When safe natural visible blue light at 415 nm is shone onto the skin the Porphyrins become excited – this active porphyrin has been clinically proven to destroy the bacteria.
When Porphyrins become excited they attach to the spot causing bacteria and begin to destroy it. Acne begins to clear and continued blue light use can help reduce P. acnes growth and stop new spots forming.
Left - Lustre Solo - £79
TheChicGeek says, “They are selling this as a treatment on the go, but when it’s on your face it looks as though a computer mouse has been attached to it. Not sure you’d want many other people to see this, but you’re certainly not handicapped by it.
You attach the simple sticky strips which also sticks the Lustre Solo to your face. There are enough strips for 30 treatments, then they are £16 for 60 new strips.
I wasn’t sure whether you left it in one place for the daily 20 minute treatment or you were supposed to move it around the problem areas. This wasn’t explained.
I moved it around three main areas of my face over the course of 2 weeks. I targeted the forehead, and both cheeks, where I have the most breakouts. It was simple to use and pain-free, easy to turn on and then turned off itself after the 20 minutes.
I didn’t notice any noticeable differences. They do say 2 weeks is a minimum course, so it could require a longer time. After 30 days, you need to start buying new strips.
I know my acne breakouts are related to food intolerances and allergies and I’m still trying to workout which ones are the biggest triggers.”
Disclosure - A sample was gifted by Lustre for review
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News in, Jigsaw is closing its Bluebird concept. After 15 years, the majority of those spent at the quiet end of the Kings Road in Chelsea, it recently moved more central to the prime site of the refurbished ‘Carriage Hall’ on Covent Garden’s Floral Street.
Left - Inside Jigsaw's Shop At Bluebird, Carriage Hall, Floral Street closing this week
Named after the art-deco car garage it was once housed in, it relocated in May 2018 and was part of the landlord Capco’s relaunch of Floral Street alongside the first central London outpost of Petersham Nurseries.
Stocking a mix of designer labels and maison objets, after just over 18 months in this location, The Shop at Bluebird, to give it its full title, is closing its doors for good this week.
A concept store without a concept, its short spell on Floral Street clearly illustrates how a once thriving, premium fashion street in a central location is struggling to pull in the shoppers. The store will turn into a larger Jigsaw store format.
Right - Discrete sign advertising the brands on Floral Street
Floral Street, a charming cobbled street just off the busy James Street, has been a fashion destination since the late 1970s. A pioneer of the area, Paul Smith opened his first store in London at 44 Floral Street in 1979. Over the next 20 years, Floral Street became one of the coolest fashion streets in London. Agnès B, Nicole Farhi, Jones, a cult designer menswear retailer, and Jigsaw Menswear were just some of the stores to make this street blossom. It’s slightly off-the-main-drag location was part of its charm.
Today, many tourists and shoppers walk straight past to the busy market area with its plethora of beauty brands or upwards to the more high-street Long Acre. Peer down Floral Street and it doesn’t look like much is there.
Floral Street isn’t alone, the same thing has happened to South Molton Street in Mayfair. On a map they geographically look as central and in the mix as anything else, but they, seemingly, get so easily passed by. Since the millennium these streets have gradually lost their appeal and declined.
Even Browns, the main pull of South Molton Street is moving. It has occupied its collection of small stores since 1970 and is now moving out. Running from Bond Street Tube station, on the corner of Oxford Street, diagonally down towards Brook Street, South Molton Street has long been a stylish cut through. Today, it has become more synonymous with people giving out free mini samples of soap than chic retail destination.
Browns is closing its collection of awkward stores to move around to a new, singular location on Brook Street. Now owned by online giant Farfetch, Brown’s new store will open this summer in time to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
While not being able to comment on the reason they are moving out, Holli Rogers, CEO of Browns and CFO of Farfetch, says “it really is telling that we found this incredible location to be our new home as we also look to celebrate our 50th anniversary. It was important that we stayed in the heart of Mayfair bringing our clients on this exciting journey, whilst honouring the path we’ve been on and looking to the future of Browns as a pioneer of luxury multi-brand retail with a technology viewpoint. Being in one dedicated space, we are excited to be able to offer a vital and engaging customer experience that draws on the store of the future technology whilst also playing homage to the history and story of both the location and fundamentally Browns.”
Left - Paul Smith's original London shop opened in 1979
So what will become of South Molton Street as even more empty shops pile up? Landlord Grosvenor is proposing investment in a ‘South Molton Triangle’ as the delayed Elizabeth Line finally opens in summer 2021 bringing many hundreds of thousands of more people into the area. But, they’ll need to entice them to venture down South Molton Street and not lose them to Oxford Street.
Right - Landlord advertising Kent & Curwen's Floral Street on the busier James Street
Bounded by Davies Street, Brook Street and South Molton Street and well-known as the home of Grays Antiques Market, this part of Mayfair was always a pedestrianised break from busy Oxford Street.
Grosvenor launched a public consultation in the summer of 2018, no doubt expecting the new underground station and line to be finished sooner. Simon Harding-Roots, executive director, Grosvenor Britain and Ireland, said at the time, “Our proposals are at a very early stage and we want to encourage feedback on how new investment could best serve the community above and beyond the opportunity to better manage increased pedestrian numbers. It is important to us that local voices are incorporated into the planning submission we will ultimately make.”
“The West End is currently ill-equipped to cope with the levels of pedestrian traffic we already see every day, let alone the arrival of thousands of extra visitors expected from the Elizabeth Line. Many of Mayfair’s pavements are too narrow, routes were built for a different era and, perhaps counter intuitively, there are not enough services for those living in and visiting the area.
“We recognise the potential of the South Molton Triangle to address a number of the issues the local community faces. By proposing new investment here, we will be able to better protect and enhance the character and simple enjoyment of living and working in one of the most desirable places in London and the West End.”
Right - Glossier beauty pop-up open until February 9th
These areas need more than simply people management, new pavements and street furniture and it feels like landlords, Capco and Grosvenor, have been focusing on larger and juicer parts of their estates rather than these streets which are more on a Victorian and Georgian scale. At the same time streets like Chiltern Street and areas like Coal Drops Yard have developed and are doing what these locations used to do.
The American beauty brand Glossier recently opened a pop-up on Floral Street, open until February 9th, 2020.
These forgotten about fashion streets were once a destination for those looking for the new cool. Being surrounded by hugely popular shopping areas, there is no reason why they can’t return to this.
These streets need to find a new reason to be and then channel people accordingly. They need to work out and provide what is cool in 2020.
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Are your shoulders boring and natural sized? Yes? Then you need to start thinking about inflating them like your ego for 2020…
At designer Kaushik Velendra’s AW20 London presentation during LFWM the shoulders were pronounced and rounded.
“Naturally fascinated by this dichotomy, my intention was to find a way to recreate those sexy and masculine shoulders, elegant elongated proportions and bold muscles using modified tailoring techniques and fabrication,” said the designer. “My collection investigates the infinite possibilities of linking the two modes together, creating a ‘new generation’ of a modern, futuristic, sophisticated, and luxurious man.”
Key to the collection was the juxtaposition of traditional Indian embroidery techniques in collaboration with the lauded atelier of Vastrakala, founded by Jean-François Lesage. Velendra’s removable shoulder moulds which, like armour, are designed to accentuate the human form are perfect for those style tackles fashion throws at you.
Left & Right - Kaushik Velendra AW20
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On a chilly January Florentine night besides the swollen river Arno, the modernist Palazzo della Borsa played host to the first ever K-Way catwalk show. Known for it colourful and affordable rainwear and its signature yellow-orange-blue striped taping, this was K-Way’s way of celebrating the revamp of the brand and a sort of anniversary for them. (The brand was founded in 1965)
Left - The Classic pac-a-mac - K-Way's first catwalk show - Pitti Uomo 97 Jan. 2020
While many think of Pitti Uomo as a place for peacocks to pose by the curved pebbled concrete and classic made-in-Italy tailoring, the real money is being made by brands that offer mass appeal and big margins. This is aspirational, usually, made-in-China fashion, that has multiple variations on the same product. The consumer feels like and is happy that they have a lot of choice, while the brand’s core is simplified and strengthens the idea of ‘owning’ a category. Customers are clear on what they do, yet want to know what the new variations or collaborations are for each season. They are happy to have multiples of the same styles and shapes and have the same things as everybody else. It’s like joining a club.
It was founder Leon Claude Duhamel’s decision to brand the lightweight, nylon pac-a-mac that gave birth to K-Way after seeing people struggling in the rain through the streets of 1960s Paris.
At the Florence show, both Duhamel, and the Italian Boglione family, which now owns it, were present after a collection featuring youthful and fashion-lead rainwear. Italian influencers in Coyote-lined K-Ways watched as every variable of a K-Way was sent down the catwalk. These weren’t the pac-a-mac types of old, though it will sell plenty of those, but more the limited runs of fashion product with the K-Way DNA centre stage, even if it was taped prominently to the models’ flies.
The Bogliones - who also own Petersham Nurseries in Richmond - own K-Way as part of their BasicNet business. This Italian sportswear group owns Kappa, Robe di Kappa, Superga, and, recently bought Sebago from Wolverine. The group produced consolidated revenue growth of 14.7% in the 2018 financial year. In the first three months, Q1 2019, revenue was €74.6 million, a 38.9% increase driven by the recent acquisition of Sport Finance, the group’s distributor in France, UK and Spain.
Right - More directional K-Way for AW20
BasicNet saw strong 2018 growth globally; USA revenue increased by 36%, Europe 13.4%, Asia-Oceania 17.1% and Middle East and Africa 56.3%.
The founder of BasicNet, Marco Boglione, was only 20 when he was invited to join the company Maglificio Calzificio Torinese (MCT). MCT specialised in hosiery and underwear until seeing the potential of designer jeans during the 1970s boom and came up with ‘Jesus Jeans’.
Marco applied himself to the sportswear side of the company and was part of the nascent industry of sponsoring athletes with branded product. Under the Kappa brand they sponsored American Carl Lewis as well as football teams such as Juventus, AC Milan and Barcelona.
Marco left MCT to start a company making football merchandise, but when MCT started to struggle he, along with his brothers, bought it out of receivership and created BasicNet in 1995. Since then it has been acquiring brands with K-Way having been acquired in 2004.
K-Way’s signature ‘Le Vrai Claude 3.0’ jacket is £75. Made in China of a simple, lightweight pac-a-mac material, the margins must be huge. Success breeds success and dominance in this sector of mid-priced branded sportswear. You can sell huge volumes and retailers like the ease of brands being clear on what they do. It’s also a fun and colourful product. The same could be said for brands such Crocs, Eastpak, Herschel and Sebago. Lots of colours and finishes in the same consistent, known and liked styles.
While many new fashion brands aim for ‘luxury’, it is too dominated by the three main groups - LVMH, Kering, Richemont - who will only increase their muscle and monopolies. The volumes are too small to grow quickly and too much money is tied up in less product. The ideal is to scale quickly and this is what BasicNet has cleverly done with its brands. It’s tapped into the desire for brands at a price people are happy to pay while making good profits.
While without the overt branding, a newish brand trying this idea of lots of colours with simplicity in styles is Colorful Standard. Made in Portugal, it recently opened a store with Oi Polloi in London. Founded by Danish entrepreneur, Tue Deleuran, in 2017, it is now sold by 500 retailers across Europe with stores in Paris and Zurich.
Colorful Standard organic T-shirts retail at €30 and the sweatshirts are between €60 and €80 in a rainbow of colours. Made in Portugal in a factory Deleuran bought in 2008, he also produces private label for many luxury brands.
Left - Colorful Standard for quality organic basics in lots of colours
Expanding, new Colourful Standard categories for AW20 include boxer briefs, socks and Oxford shirts. By having the illusion of lots of choice it entices the consumer to be happy to add to their 'collection'. It also becomes a go-to when the product is good and people are satisfied. Asking people to pay 4 times the prices of Uniqlo with feel good extras of organic cotton and charitable associations seems to be working. It looks Helvetica familiar and fills the American Apparel gap or that once held by the likes of GAP.
What these two examples illustrate is the opportunities in this mid-priced market. Healthy margins in large volumes is the dream for any fashion business. Despite the naysayers, people will still pay for product they like, it just needs to be good. Oh, and colourful!
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One of the last designers standing at LFWM doing anything remotely luxurious and expensive looking is Edward Crutchley. He’s stealthily built up a fan base and business selling beautiful and theatrical clothes stocked by the likes of Harrods, matchesfashion.com and Browns. Patterned chintzs and medieval looking prints are an extravagant, yet wearable, display of his fashion craft.
The Charles I hair - or was it Brian May?! - and exaggerated Freemasons’ Fezs - Shriners - made you yearn for beautiful things again. (There’s still a customer).
The furs were real - this could explain the refined walnut lined location of the Skinners' Hall - and provided by Kopenhagen Fur. Black and white checks and lewd artly printed silks are a signature of Crutchley's.
Silly, and as basic as it sounds, but, considering the state of the quality and output from many ‘luxury’ brands, this all looks good enough to buy. Finally!
Pass me the American Express.
With a schedule now slimmer than one of the teenage models, London Fashion Week Men’s, or LFWM, needs to find a new reason for being. We’ve done diversity, inclusiveness and sustainability, but now, thanks to the BFC, there’s an over-riding umbrella term called ‘Positive Fashion’. Designers such as Nicholas Daley, Bethany Williams, Bianca Saunders and Ahluwalia all had PW (Positive Fashion) after their names on the schedule.
Launched in 2013, the BFC’s Positive Fashion initiative is “a platform designed to celebrate industry best practice and encourage future business decisions to create positive change”.
Left - The BFC's new LFWM graphics
Positive Fashion is led by 3 strategic pillars - sustainability, equality and diversity and craftsmanship and community - it says, In a statement from the BFC, “The BFC takes the lead in setting the standards for an industry that strives to represent equality and diversity on the global stage. Championing the importance of every person in the sector as a vital and valuable part of our industry entitled to be treated with respect and dignity.
“Supports the community of talent, skills and craftsmanship that make up our unique industry. Our initiatives are designed to develop connections and understanding between designers and manufacturers taking a holistic approach to the long term viability of the sector. We celebrate the wealth of talent and capability that is unique to British designer businesses.”
While this manifesto all sounds totally earnest and worthwhile it does reek of wishful thinking and what does it actually mean?The green movement is only going to get bigger and the fashion sector, said to contribute £32.3 Billion to the UK economy in GDP and supporting 890,000 jobs, is firmly on its naughty step. We’ve had a lot of lip service, but sadly, without government legislation, the industry will put off the difficult, and more costly, things until tomorrow.
To further ram home the point, the British Fashion Council has announced its intention to launch the Institute of Positive Fashion (IPF). “The BFC recognises that the fashion industry engages consumers daily, and whilst it is often seen as forward thinking, it also appreciates that through global supply chains the industry can have a negative impact on the planet.”
“Through the IPF, the BFC aims to create an industry blueprint by bringing together expertise from different areas to help brands in the industry navigate an often confusing to understand topic and kick-start a much-need comprehensive step-change. Informed by research, expert opinion, industry insights and the significant industry experience of individual businesses and organisations, the power of collective effort will amplify independent activity.”
It’s a lot of marketing speak, but it does have an influence if the costs aren’t too prohibitive. ‘Sustainability' has been a part of the BFC’s strategy since 2006. Their ‘Esthethica’ showcase put sustainable fashion at the heart of London Fashion Week before evolving into Positive Fashion in 2013. This is the first time I have seen it mentioned anywhere.
But, what has exactly happened over those past 7 years and how much carbon emissions, or however you want to measure it, has been saved?
Back to fashion week and many designers are thinking about how to minimise their footprint, but they’re also trying to survive very tough times. LFWM is currently very sustainable because nobody buys any of it. But jokes aside, the ambition is there and it feels like we’re in something of a technological and supply chain cul-de-sac. Patrick Grant’s premium E Tautz label was called ‘Brand New Second Hand’. In the show release he said, “As a designer I feel acute pressure to act. We need to change the message. No more fiddling while Rome burns. Big fashion can do ‘sustainable’, it can do ‘ethical’, it can do ‘conscious’. It all helps make consumers buy MORE.
“But what big fashion cannot do is small. It can’t slow down. What they will never do is tell you to ‘buy less, keep for longer, cherish, repair, pass on’. That however is exactly what we must do and what we’re asking you to do. E Tautz clothes will not change so much from season to season that you feel you need to buy something new. In fact we’re suggesting the opposite.”
Grant has worked with Astco, one of the UK’s largest clothing recyclers, to make new pieces from unwanted textiles. He’s also enlisted the Rolls-Royce of darning, the Royal School of Needlework, to give them that patched/repaired feel. What he should have done is shown last season’s samples with the repairs from actual wear and tear from being lent out to the industry. It’s fine to talk about buying less when a coat costs £1500, but when the collections are often funded by more affordable, high-street collaborations it can often sound hypocritical.
But, everything fashion does is hypocritical. The idea of replacing something while it is still perfectly useful will always put fashion into the negative fashion bracket. ‘Positive Fashion’ could easily go the way of ‘sustainability’ and become as meaningless as it sounds. Nobody is going to disagree with making fashion positive, it just needs to be explained. We want detail.
“The world is burning. Fashion plays a BIG part in this.” said Grant in his show's press release, “But as Ranieri sings in ‘Oh My Love’ ‘from nature we should learn, that all can start again’. Even Fashion.”
As we end the decade, it’s time to look back at the highs (& low) of its final year and acknowledge those doing great things in men’s grooming and fashion. Hype is still just as important and the mega brands just keep getting bigger, but the great thing about fashion, and the reason I love it, is good ideas can come from anywhere.
Here’s to 2020 being the year of the Fashion Wanker - BUY TheChicGeek's new book - FASHIONWANKERS - HERE and owning it. Remember, it takes one to know one!
Best Label of 2019 Bottega Veneta
Just as Gucci starts to slow, Kering has Bottega Veneta creating all the hype thanks to it’s new British designer Daniel Lee. A graduate of Central Saint Martins College of Art, he has worked at Maison Margiela, Balenciaga and Donna Karan. Prior to joining Bottega Veneta, Lee was Director of Ready-to-Wear Design at Céline and he’s created a strict yet sexy reinterpretation of the Bottega Veneta signatures such as their basket weave leather.
It cools yet strict, minimal yet interesting and its influence is now everywhere.
Left - Bottega Veneta SS20
Best New Label of 2019 Carne Bollente
Carne Bollente is an independent Paris-based brand established in 2014 by Hijiri Endo,
Théodore Famery and Agoston Palinko. They focus on the relationship between sex and positivity, to allow people to embrace their own sexuality and kinks through their clothes. By pairing straightforward streetwear staples with scenic sex illustrations, which manage to cover a wide scope of sexual taboos without verging on the problematic, Carne Bollente inject irreverence and provocation into no-frills basics.
Left - Carne Bollente - Bimbo Unchained 2 Blue Denim Jacket - €230
Best High Street of 2019 Jaded London
The High-Street became something of a dirty word this year. It’s tough out there and menswear has been hit harder than most. While some brands ditched menswear entirely, others have taken the plunge and really gone for it.
Fun and affordable, Jaded London gets on all the big trends without the price tags. The made for Insta clothes are by brother and sister team, Grant and Jade Goulden, who launched in 2013. Dior Saddle bag for £40, anyone?
Best Grooming Product 2019 GilletteLabs
This year we were introduced to the first heated razor and its good. Part of the new ‘GilletteLabs’ stable, the stainless steel warming bar has adjustable temperature levels and a wireless magnetic charging dock to make this a revolutionary shaving sensation. Much higher than the usual Gillette price tag, it will be interesting to see how popular this has been.
Left - GilletteLabs - Heated Razor - £199
Best Grooming Brand 2019 Baxter of California
It’s getting increasing difficult to stand out in the crowded men’s grooming market and with everybody jumping on the unisex band wagon anyway, where does it leave it? Baxter of California now has the expertise of L’Oréal behind it and is a reliable mid-priced grooming brand. Based on its Californian surf heritage since 1965, it was one of the first in men’s grooming. For an everyday easy product I swear by the Oil Free Moisturiser.
Below - Baxter of California - Oil Free Moisturiser - £24
Fragrance of the Year 2019 - Ostens Impression Patchouli Heart No.1
Ostens was a new fragrance brand this year and completely won me over to patchouli.
This scent by Domitille Michalon-Bertier includes rosemary, lavandin, lavender absolute, immortelle absolute LMR, ciste labdanum absolute and is gorgeous. Easily my favourite of the year.
Left - Ostens Impression Patchouli Heart IFF-LMR No. 1 - 50ml - £85
Most Stylish Programme 2019 - Chernobyl
Possibly not the most stylish, but definitely the most memorable and impactful. Chernobyl took us on a jaw-dropping adventure in 1980s Ukraine charting the meltdown of the nuclear reactor. The wardrobe of drab Soviet suiting and military garments seemed to bookend the current trend of vintage dress down.
Best Menswear Collaboration 2019 - Moncler Genius
Moncler did the clever thing for our short attention span times and commissioned a new designer to do a new collection every few weeks and keep dropping throughout the season. Designers have included Craig Green, Simone Rocha, Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino, Richard Quinn, 1017 Alyx 9SM and Palm Angels, along with two of the brand’s own labels, 1952 and Grenoble.
It has kept it fresh, reliable and is producing some of the best outerwear to suit every fashion wanker’s taste.
Left - Craig Green Moncler Genius
Special ChicGeek Award 2019 - Drake’s
Charting its own preppy course, Drake’s has stealthy positioned itself as the bastion of contemporary classic British menswear. The new store on Savile Row shows they’re continued success and with Michael Hill’s tasteful eye over everything, it’s the most colourful quality menswear you’re going to find anywhere. Expanded far beyond its original silk ties and accessorises, it’s now a full men’s outfitters and the type of British label the Japanese and Koreans go crazy for.
Right - Drake's new Savile Row store
Most Stylish Man of 2019 Timothée Chalamet
A best dressed person is somebody you can’t wait to see what they put on next. Anybody who leaves you guessing and then smashing it out of the park is always the most interesting and therefore crowned best dressed.
This year I recognise Timothée Chalamet who famously said he doesn’t have a stylist. “I don’t want to work with a stylist or anything. I’ve been following designers like Raf, Haider Ackermann, Hedi Slimane—these guys are like rock stars. They’re artists.” he told Frank Ocean in a Q&A for VMan magazine in 2018.
Hi skinny frame and romantic locks have made him a youthful menswear pin-up who isn’t afraid to try something new.
Turkey of 2019 - Burberry
I just don’t get it. Riccardo Tisci has stripped all the personality out of Burberry. Rather than building on Christopher Bailey’s legacy and momentum, he seems intent on doing the opposite. Prices have gone up and the original ideas have gone down. It all just looks like it’s trying too hard and doesn’t have any identity.
It’s seems intent on ignoring the hero product of the trench and opting for gimmicks. If the Chinese stop buying, they’re going to need to change things quickly. It will be interesting to see whether sales are sustained at a label that has lost its kudos amongst the fashion crowd.
Burberry - Large Logo and Kingdom Detail Nevis Backpack - £1090
Not all high streets are created equal. The government has just announced the first 14 high streets to receive financial support as part of a pilot called the ‘High Streets Task Force’, which will be rolled out across the country over 2020. Each will receive up to £25million worth of “training, face-to-face support and access to research” from industry experts who will team up with local leaders.
Left - Huyton Town Centre in Knowsley set to get £25 million of investment
In July the £3.6 billion ‘Towns Fund’ was announced by the government, including this £1 billion High Streets Fund to “help high streets adapt and evolve while remaining vibrant places for their community”.
“This government is investing £3.6billion in our great towns, including £1billion to help our high streets to adapt and evolve while remaining vibrant and safe places at the heart of our communities." said Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick said last week.
“Having announced the first 101 high streets that can benefit from £25 million each back in the summer, I am announcing support from our new High Streets Task Force for a further 20 places and naming 14 of these today.” he said.
So, the government has a ‘Future High Streets Fund’ and a ‘High Streets Task Force’ each giving high-streets £25 million to boost their local economies. This is fantastic, but, is this spreading the money too thin? While any money is welcome, wouldn’t the government be better targeting fewer towns with more money to really have a lasting and deeper effect to stem the bleed from our high-streets?
Many of these high-streets are lost and are never going to thrive while there are many that are simply declining, can be saved and just need an injection of cash and energy.
On the recently announced list of 14 high streets is Thornton Heath in Croydon in South London. Apart from being the home of Stormzy, the majority of people would have never have heard of it. Thornton Heath hasn’t had a thriving high-street since the 1950s. Apart from a 1970s Tesco there really is nothing there and never will be. Being a realist, the area doesn’t have much money and is far down on the list of being gentrified. The local council recently spent money on paving and planting so it has had some grass roots investment to boost its apperance. Supporting businesses which don’t have the customers to pass the baton onto is pointless. Thornton Heath is more a local parade of shops than a ‘high-street’. The government would be better off targeting the larger and more connected Croydon high-street nearby which is in desperate need of investment especially with the wobbling of the proposed Westfield shopping centre project
Looking at the announced list some look like tertiary high-streets such as Swinton Town centre in Salford, Stirchley in Birmingham and Huyton Town Centre in Knowsley. And while it’s great to give these areas a refresh, the future of high-streets is fewer but better. The places announced will benefit from bespoke support and guidance from the new ‘High Streets Task Force’, announced by the government in response to recommendations of an expert panel on the high street chaired by Sir John Timpson. The High Streets Task Force will give “face-to-face support, access to cutting-edge research, new online training, and local footfall data to give businesses that vital edge and transform local town centres”. The government says it wants to "level" up towns and regions, “ensuring prosperity and opportunity are available to everyone”.
But, can "up to £25 million" be anything more than cosmetic?
Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, Rt Hon Jake Berry, said, “Every place has its own unique strengths and challenges but all our town centres and high streets have one thing in common – they are the lifeblood of communities.
“The tailored support from our new High Streets Task Force and up to £25 million each from the Towns Fund for 100 places gives communities the money and support they need to unleash the potential of their towns.
“This people’s government is backing people across the Northern Powerhouse and every part of the UK to succeed no matter where they live.” he said.
Right - Thornton Heath in the London Borough of Croydon has already had recent investment to its high street with new pavements and planting
The high-street ‘Task Force’ is run by the ‘Institute for Place Management’ on behalf of the government, and is holding an open recruitment for a Board Chair to provide expert leadership to this programme. The Task Force brings together a range of expert groups on reinventing and restructuring places, including the Royal Town Planning Institute and The Design Council.
The government is also seeking views on whether an online register of commercial properties would make it easier to bring empty shops back into use. It wants to understand people’s experiences of leasing commercial property – with a view to making ownership of high street properties more transparent, making it easier for businesses and community groups to find space and supporting investment in local areas.
This recent announcement builds on ongoing government action to support high streets, including cutting small retailers’ business rates bills by 50% from April, following more than £13 billion of business rates support since 2016.
The recent 2019 Conservative manifesto promised, “we will cut the burden of tax on business by reducing business rates. This will be done via a fundamental review of the system”. They pledged to increase the business rates discount available to businesses with a rateable value below £51,000 from 33 per cent to 50 per cent in 2020-21. They also plan to extend the discount to “grassroots music venues, small cinemas and pubs.” The changes to business rates would only apply to England as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own business rate regimes. The discount is set to last for just one financial year.
Public money should always be a catalyst for private investment. The government investing money into local high-streets is a welcome initiative, but spreading it too thin and wasting money on high streets which look like they will never grow or thrive is a wasted opportunity. While new pavements and a cosmetic tart up does change perceptions, it will be small businesses and start-ups that will really change these areas together with private landlords. This is where a reassessment of business rates will be needed. The new money will be a boost, but will it be enough in the right places? Ideally it needs to ripple out into the local economy and help high-streets to survive the threat of online and reduced footfalls long after it has gone.
So, where should the government be putting its money? AskTraders, a company providing detailed information about share trading and brokers, conducted an analysis of the UK’s high streets, looking at ATM, bank branches, retail store closures and ONS % growth of the retail sector over the course of 2019. It found the “most declining” high streets were to be Poole, Blackpool - Blackpool is on the government list of 101 high streets announced in the summer - Warrington, Manchester and Swindon. Poole High Street has seen overall retail growth fall by four percent in 2019. Stopping the decline is just as important as providing a boost and maybe these larger centres would be a better investment to stop the rot.
Local councils can change parking restrictions and charges, or work with transport providers to make it easier for people to visit the shops. Local people will be glad to see investment on their high streets, but it will be profitable and sustainable businesses with customers spending money which will leave the lasting legacy.
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As we wave goodbye to another decade, it’s time to assess where we’ve been and what the next 10 years will have in store for the retail sector. It’s hard to think back to 2010 and not somehow feel it is closer than it really is. Nine years’ later and you’d think online had virtually replaced traditional retail, but it is still under 20% of total retail sales. About 7% of total retail sales were online in 2010 rising to 19% by 2019 as a percentage of total retail sales.
At the start of the decade, in June 2010, there were 1.97B internet users, by 2019, that figure had reached 4.54B users, 58.8% of the world’s population. Virtually all adults aged 16 to 44 years in the UK were recent internet users (99%) in 2019, compared with 47% of adults aged 75 years and over.
And this is before the roll out and connectivity of 5G. We’ll probably look back and feel we were living in the dark ages when it came to internet speeds when we finally have uninterrupted data and mobile signal.
Left - Autonomous vehicles will be the future of deliveries
While online sales have grown nearly 3 times as a proportion of retail sales over the decade, it’s interesting to look at the growing monopoly of the internet. In the USA, the top five online retailers own 64.7% of sales, (data via Statista).
While online retail sales growth appears to be slowing nobody knows the final plateauing retail mix in numbers yet. One recent report by the analysts ‘Retail Economics’ for the law firm Womble Bond Dickinson, says online shopping could more than double its share of the retail market by 2028. The internet is expected to account for 53% of retail sales in 10 years’ time as younger people who have grown up with the internet become more than half the UK’s adult population according to the report.
Richard Lim, of Retail Economics, said: “Successful retailers have always had to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. However, the pace of change will inevitably prove too fast for many. It definitely feels like the digital retail revolution is only just getting started.”
Arguably the most important revolution in the coming decade will be automation and automated vehicles. Take the human out of something and it instantly becomes far cheaper and more flexible.
The automated car is coming, it’s just a matter of when. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla said that he anticipates completion of fully autonomous technology by the end of 2019 with their self-driving vehicles being so advanced in 2020 that the driver can basically take a nap. He said, “I think we will be ‘feature-complete’ on full self-driving this year, meaning the car will be able to find you in a parking lot, pick you up, take you all the way to your destination without an intervention this year.”
There will be rigorous testing and legislation for this to happen, which will take time, but once vehicles become fully driverless and trusted we’ll be able to have everything delivered at anytime for very little cost. It will revolutionise delivery and the volumes of deliveries. Things will no longer be a hassle to return and as such, will be easier to buy. You'll never be out when you know exactly when your delivery is to arrive.
Right - Secure and cheap deliveries without the human
Fashion will become a service. We’ve seen the idea start this year with the rental and secondhand markets growing recently, but it will be with automation when the business model will make sense. Fashion companies will sell ideas and consumers will buy or borrow those ideas. At the end of life, these items will be returned and disposed or recycled responsibly. The new affordability automation allows will make it cheaper than buying regular clothes. This is when the idea will reach a tipping point.
Having large fulfilment centres servicing larger numbers of people will also be more efficient and reduce wastage, particularly in food. The idea that every supermarket has to guess what that individual store will sell that day or week and it doesn’t leave that store unless it is sold, reduced or thrown away makes no sense in the 21st century. Retailers and brands will like this reduced wastage and more full price sales. Consumers will get fresher items and greater convenience.
The environment will become increasingly important and efficiencies will be driven by green ideas. I think it’s naive to expect consumers to buy less and retailers don’t want that either, it’s going to be about cycles and closing the loop on goods and services.
It will be about knowing more with regards to what to make and when, with fewer sales and less wastage. When The H&M Group is estimated to sell three billion articles of clothing per year, made in 40 countries, using 275 factories in Bangladesh alone, the scale and potentials for efficiencies is huge. Consumers being able to order exactly what they want and it will be a boon for retailers as well as the environment.
Left - What will the first automated vehicles look like?
How fashion dictates how we look throughout all this will be anyone’s guess, but luxury brands are getting bigger and more dominant, though never underestimate consumer’s desire for change and the human characteristic of becoming bored and moving on relatively quickly.
Whether we will still be wearing sportswear in 2029 is yet to be seen…but the future will definitely involve less humans.
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