People love good shops. It might not be cool to admit it, but watching the hordes of people flocking after each and every lockdown to their local high-street is testament to this being true. While online shopping has seen record growth over the past year, nearly £7 in every £10 is still spent offline. According to the UK Government’s Office of National Statistics internet sales as a percentage of total retail sales (ratio) (%) hit a record 36% in November 2020. Online had been growing steadily towards 20% of total retail sales, but, thanks to lockdowns and the COVID outbreak, it has leapt to above 30%. But, eventually the growth with slow and then will plateau. So, where is the optimism around physical retail?
Left - Do we need a national campaign to remind people how good shops can be?
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Is there ever a perfect time to launch anything? Warehouse, the women’s high street brand founded in 1976 by Jeff Banks, is launching menswear this week. The traditional British men’s high-street has been in the doldrums for quite some time since the skinny suit was replaced by the branded tracksuit. So, the question is, does this ambitious new launch signal the start of a potential menswear renaissance or will it be simply too difficult in a segment that has seen other well known high-street brands crash and burn?
Jonathan Munro, Warehouse Menswear designer says, “We feel strongly that there is a gap for a well-designed sustainable brand at a great price point. We wanted to build on the success of the womenswear line, marking a new chapter in the brand’s history and fulfilling what we believe, is a gap in the market.” he says. It is worth noting that this isn’t the first time Warehouse has done menswear. They had menswear in the early days of Warehouse so they are not promoting this as a first.
Left - Warehouse Menswear SS20
The main focus is, the fashion word du jour, sustainable. The new range will be sold online via the Warehouse webstore www.warehouse.co.uk and through host e-tailers and retailers; The Idle Man, Zalando, JohnLewis.com, Next and the Australian retailer Myer. Price points range from £15 for a 100% organic T-shirt, up to £189 for a recycled polyester content suit and £229 for the chrome-free suede jacket.
“The core of the range is made up of high quality wardrobe staples that should last season-after-season, balanced with breathable cottons and linens in a wearable colour palette.” says Munro. “We have a great range of printed shirts, from monochrome geos to abstract hand painted illustrations which are all designed in-house. Key pieces include our heavy twill overshirts and slim utility trousers.” he says.
“Fashion needs to become more sustainable for the good of the planet.” says Munro. “100% of the range includes sustainable fibres such as organic cottons which use less pesticides and therefore less pollutants, recycled polyesters made up from salvaged plastic bottles and eco viscose which is derived from renewable wood sources.”
What will Warehouse Menswear add to the British men’s high-street market? “Sustainable clothing for the modern man who needs his clothes to last and work for him every day.” says Munro. “We know women buy clothes for men and we also know men buy clothes for themselves - it's aimed at whoever wants to buy it.” he says. “We are holding a pop-up store at Protein Studios in Shoreditch, running from the 2nd – 7th March. This is to allow customers to see the range first hand, interacting with the materials and learning more about the sustainability messaging which runs throughout.”
What does the future look like for Warehouse Menswear? “Our main focus will be to continue to research and develop new ways of working with sustainability in mind, supported by the knowledge of what the Warehouse Menswear customer is looking for in a sustainable clothing collection.” says Munro.
Brands such as Whistles and New Look both struggled in the menswear category. Whistles cancelled its menswear range this time last year and New Look removed menswear from its stores in April 2019, going online-only. The rest of the high-street from Topman to River Island to Jigsaw have struggled to compete with Zara and the sports brands. But, things aren’t all doom and gloom, according to a ‘GlobalData’ report ‘The UK Clothing Market 2018 – 2023’, menswear will be the driving force of the clothing sector, forecast to grow by 12.3% over the next five years as greater trend incorporation and newness drives volumes.
A British Fashion Council and Mintel report estimates that consumer spending menswear has grown 5.1% to reach £15.9 billion in 2018. Menswear now accounts for 26% of the total clothing market, whilst womenswear accounts for 51%. Consumer spending on clothing is forecast to rise 25% to £76 billion in the next five years to 2023.
Warehouse’s parent company, the Oasis and Warehouse Group, clearly sees potential in the menswear market having recently purchased online retailer The Idle Man for an undisclosed sum in Sept. 2019.
Right - Warehouse Menswear SS20
So, what do the experts think Warehouse Menswear’s prospects are?
“When this was announced, I’m not going to lie, I was very surprised, to say the least. I understand a lot of people keep on talking about the growth in men’s fashion & grooming, but when we see retailers from New Look to Whistles dropping their menswear offering, it does beg the question, is now the best time to launch a menswear brand extension?
“Additional to this, we have an awful lot of talk on sustainability and buying less but better quality, plus when well known names like TOPMAN are not performing particularly well at the moment, its hard to see a brand not known for their menswear being a success in these difficult, uncertain times. However, maybe this is what the menswear market needs, maybe Warehouse it going to target the ladies buying for their men, but this is an ever increasingly niche demographic. I do wish Warehouse all the luck in the world and hope their Menswear offering is a success, but I won’t be holding my breathe.” says Anthony McGrath, Founder of Clothes-Make-the-Man.com & leading academic.
“It’s certainly a challenging time to launch, but there’s an opportunity for Warehouse where other major high street names are stalling or retracting on menswear. There are multiple challenges for high street retailers; nimble online competition, prohibitive high business rates, persistent economic uncertainty and the fact that many of us no longer choose shopping as a preferable leisure activity. However, in my opinion the current menswear offer from the high street, with a few exceptions, is failing to offer well-made, well priced and exciting product. There’s a proliferation of dull, cheap clothes.
I’d like to see a certain amount of risk taking. Nobody needs another line of neutral, anonymous ‘wardrobe essentials’. Men shop for themselves. It’s not going to work if the strategy is to rely on existing customers.” says Jessica Punter, Stylist & Grooming Consultant, & former GQ Style & Grooming Editor.
“It'll be a tough fight, and depends on their marketing strategy I think. They have a nice campaign video and a pop up shop but is that enough? We'll see. They have an opportunity now to really nail it, to take the market share from the high street brands that don't do it particularly well, but time will tell! I think others failed because they weren't offering a mix of product for different customer groups, so hopefully Warehouse will.
“There isn't a 'good time' to launch I don't think, there's always going to be peaks and troughs in the industry, and right now we're just coming out of a terrible time for retail, so maybe it's a great time! To wait until fashion week or another event is pointless now as we know men don't really shop to seasons or events, they just shop because they need to. I guess it's a good time in the year though, because now is the time for newness, so makes sense from a business point of view.
“Initially, I think it'll be the aimed at the women for sure, because they are the ones going in store and online to buy Warehouse, but if they have a good marketing plan, and get it out to wider audiences, men will slowly show up. Also, I wonder who they are partnering with, if anyone, to wholesale? That'll be really important in pulling in a new menswear customer. It'll be slow, but maybe they might be able to do what others have failed to do!” says Simon Glazin, freelance fashion writer and blogger.
Left - Will it work? Warehouse Menswear SS20
“I think there's space for an affordable, fashion-forward offer now Topman is tussling with Boohoo over cheap sportswear, but Warehouse aren't going to be the ones to provide it. Well, judging from the images I've seen.” says Lee Clatworthy, Fashion Writer.
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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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We’re often bombarded with marketing speak talking about “local”, but it’s mostly just that, speak. Remember when HSBC used to refer to itself as the “The world’s local bank.”, it meant nothing more than operating in lots of different markets and countries. Local became more about geography than anything else. It joined the group of words, such as luxury, modern and sustainable, that get used all too often, but have become meaningless.
Trying to balance the idea of a much loved local, independent retailer and the scale of a larger chain is the dream of any contemporary brand or retailer. According to CACI Consulting Group’s ‘Location Dynamics” engine, 75% of the UK high streets have the same brand profile. They say “The concept of clone towns is well known, but we believe clone stores are the real issue.”
Left - Welcome to clone town - Can brands decentralise and empower its people on the ground to make decisions?
It’s boring and in a saturated market many cookie-cutter, anonymous chains are no longer appealing to consumers and as such we’re seeing those with too many stores close or reduce their footprint.
“In a market where consumers are seeking localisation and engage in brands that mirror their values it is essential that a store is part of the community in which it sits.” says Alex McCulloch and John Platt, Directors of CACI Consulting Group.
“Customers can buy generic product sold in a uniform way online, they seek out stores for the personal, curated, local and engagement. Brands that therefore dictate homogenous stock and store fit out regardless of the local customer will not deliver that experience and as a result fall away.” they say. “The brands that trust in their people on the ground, invest in them and empower them to know their shopper as well as supporting them with forensic data analysis on what sells, what doesn’t, which marketing worked etc are the ones that will succeed.”
“Data alone cannot fix the problem, but nor can people. Good brands leverage both. A great example of this is Waterstones, finding a similar one in the fashion sector is a challenge – typically independents lead the way here. One fashion brand that doesn’t shine in this area is M&S, which serve up the same store, stock and fit-out regardless of market, and have only just entrusted their store managers to know their own P&L; the antithesis of employee empowerment.”
The type of store finding it hardest to adjust to modern retail was, originally and ironically, the most localised. Nearly every town and city had their own individually named department store up until quite recently. It was only in the early 2000s that John Lewis, with the exception of Peter Jones and Knight & Lee, which is now closed, rebranded each store to the company umbrella name. Tyrrell & Green in Southampton, Bonds in Norwich, Trewins in Watford, Jessops in Nottingham, Bainbridge’s in Newcastle, Robert Sayle in Cambridge and Cole Brothers in Sheffield all disappeared. They were all recognisably John Lewis because of the store interiors and branding, but retained their historical monikers into the 21st century and the affection that each town would have for them.
DH Evans on Oxford Street was re-branded as House of Fraser in 2001 along with many other well known names such as Rackhams of Birmingham and Kendals of Manchester. (It will be interesting to watch House of Fraser’s next rebrand to Frasers in 2020, back to the original Glasgow store’s name, with a new store in Wolverhampton’s Mander Centre following the exit of Debenhams. “Frasers of Wolverhampton” could have quite the ring to it?)
Up until 2018 the Newcastle based department store chain, Fenwick, had individual buyers for its 9 department stores. In order to save costs they centralised their buying last year saying, ”Fenwick has today announced a proposal to modernise and reorganise the business, moving to a functionally led structure while retaining our local focus.
“These proposals are part of a broader strategy to modernise the business and to invest in both Fenwick’s multichannel offer – including IT upgrades and ecommerce – and its flagship Newcastle store.” Previously each store ran autonomously.
It is understandable the desire to have everything centralised under one name and buying team. It saves costs and doesn’t confuse the customer. It also makes more sense because of the internet and having one unified website, but it loses the personalisation and affection that people had for these brands and nobody wants to think that their town or city is the same as everywhere else. (In out-of-town shopping centres it doesn’t matter quite as much because their isn’t so much ownership of place).
Right - Do clone towns need a pop-up Banksy store like this one in Croydon?
This reblanding doesn’t take into account British idiosyncrasies or quirks and our love of personality. Many chain stores want bland boxes. The historical nature of the fabric of many of these older brands and their buildings have been looked at as a problem, money pit and not conducive to modern retail rather than embracing their uniqueness. It’s only poor and long term under investment that has let these retailers down. Liberty of London wouldn’t be the same if it was in another building. The building is the brand.
"There is a fear that localised = expensive. It doesn’t need to – you know a Waterstones when you go in it and the branding is universal, but each store manager has autonomy over the look and feel of the product, what is on promotion and maintains local charts etc.” says McCulloch and Platt, Directors of CACI Consulting Group.
"Chains need to trust that their staff on the ground can make decisions on how they sell and give them space to do so within the brand framework. Equally they should be able to use POS data, online sales data and customer data to inform the manager on which lines have worked, which initiatives drove sales and how to better them.”
Engaged employees make better employees especially if they are personally invested in decisions. It’s the opposite of automation and the robotic attitude to manual shop employees.
“By trusting in the people on the front line, educating them, training them and supporting them through data will you also likely see key staff retention increase because staff will be empowered in their roles.” says McCulloch and Platt.
Is the design of stores an issue here and how can design catch up with consumer behaviour? “I’m not sure design is at fault here, there are many truly innovative stores and spaces in the market. The issue is more typically underinvestment in stores and a homogenous approach to stores. A brand can tailor its social ads based on geography and consumer (a 20-year-old single male in London will get served a different ad. to a 28-year-old mother of two in Liverpool) but don’t consider the same approach and nuance with their stores.” says McCulloch and Platt.
Facebook has been putting ‘Beacons’ into stores to send consumers personalised ads and to track their movements. Retailers also need to work backwards from this and tailor the stores to the people who are frequenting them. They could find out this information from peoples’ Bluetooth being turned on and then change the buy of the store according to the breakdown of the consumers and visitors.
Obviously, not each and every store is identical. Stores are different in size and can accommodate different levels of ranges. Some chains specifier different product for different locations, but, it’s more a mindset and preconception that they’re all the same which is the main problem here. People want to be pleasantly surprised. “I’m-not-going-to-go-in-there-because-I-already-know-what-they-sell-and-I-can’t-be-bothered” is the modern attitude to many chain stores. The more individual or local they were perceived to be, the more often you’re likely to take a look. If you want anonymous and clinical you’ll shop online, it’s about pride of place.
When New Look announced, at the beginning of this month, its menswear was going online only, it solidified what we already knew; high-street fashion is struggling, badly. It was only a few years ago, when the ‘dapper’ three-piece skinny suit was at its zenith and pocket squares were furnishing top pockets, that the good times were rolling and Britain’s high-street menswear retailers were expanding.
Left - Momager Kris Jenner loving an adidas tracksuit but with a Gucci bag or Fendi keyring
Back in 2016, New Look was busy rolling out menswear stores in university towns, appealing to those on a budget wanting fast fashion. New Look was fairly late to the menswear party, following in the footsteps of brands like Topman, River Island and Moss Bros, but it had lofty ambitions. They opened 22 menswear stores in places such as Shrewsbury, Exeter, Maidstone, Derby and Nottingham. They are all now closed, wth New Look saying in a recent statement, “New Look is removing menswear from its UK and Ireland stores but will continue to sell the range online and on third party platforms,” such as ASOS and Zalando.
So, what happened? Sportswear happened. Branded sportswear has been the main fashion story for the past few years. From trainers to tracksuits, sportswear is everywhere and on everybody.
Recent results from sportswear behemoth, JD Sports, illustrates its growth and dominance. JD Sports, which is now more than three times bigger than arch rival Sports Direct, almost-doubled revenue in its latest results for the 52 weeks to February 2, 2019. Revenue was up an incredible 49.2 percent to £4.7 billion for the period compared to the year before, with profit before tax increasing by 15.4 percent to £339.9 million pounds.
JD Sports’ results includes its acquisition of the Finish Line business in America. The brand was bought for around £400 million in June 2018, and saw JD Sports take ownership of Finish Line’s 600 stores in the US.
JD Sports executive chairman, Peter Cowgill, said in a statement: "We believe that our acquisition of the Finish Line business in the United States, the largest market for sport lifestyle footwear and apparel and the home to many of the global sportswear brands, will have positive consequences for our long-term brand engagement whilst significantly extending the group's global reach. We maintain our belief that Finish Line is capable of delivering improved levels of profitability.” JD Sports said it stayed clear of reactive discounting while offering a point of difference in the goods it sold.
This American dominance, particularly of the internet and social media channels, has helped grow this market. When American football is coming to Wembley and there’s even talk of baseball making inroads into this country, then you know the power of the American online world we now live in. When you see Kris Jenner wearing a full adidas tracksuit on multiple episodes of the Kardashians, instead of the luxury labels she used to be wearing, it really illustrates how far this trend has come and it’s global.
JD Sports is now in 10 countries in mainland Europe with its first store in Austria at Mariahilfer Strasse in Vienna opening in the next few months. The JD fascia saw a net increase of 39 stores in the period with new stores in all of the retailer’s existing territories as well as its first two stores in Finland. In Asia, JD Sports has opened its first stores in Singapore, Thailand and South Korea with its local partner Shoemarker Inc, and now has 16 JD stores, including 14 conversions of the multibrand Hot-T fascia which was acquired in the previous year.
New Look recently closed all of their stores in China, Belgium and Poland, 85 stores in the UK and, potentially, those in France and Portugal too. It has returned to profit after its underlying operating profit came in at £38.5 million to Dec 2018, compared to an underlying operating loss of £5.1 million for the same year-to-date period the year prior, but like-for-like sales are still falling, they’ve just slowed.
These woes aren't just restricted to New Look. The fall in the value of these high-street companies is illustrated by Arcadia recently buying a 25 per cent stake in retailers Topshop and Topman back from US investor Leonard Green for $1 or 76p. It was rumoured the US private equity firm bought the 25 per cent stake from Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia in 2012 for £350 million. That’s some devaluation.
Another British high-street brand suffering from the dominance of sportswear is Moss Bros. The menswear retailer recorded a £4.2 million loss for the 52-week period ending January 26, 2019, compared to a profit of £6.7 million the year prior. Revenues were down 2.1 per cent to £129 million and like-for-like sales dropped 4.3 per cent. Interestingly, full-year figures showed that like-for-like hire sales plummeted by 9.3 per cent. People aren’t even renting formalwear now?! Moss Bros chief executive, Brian Brick, said it was an “extremely challenging” year. “We suffered from a combination of a significant stock shortage and extremes of weather, alongside sporting distraction in the first half, which impacted footfall into our stores,” he said. That “sporting distraction” was the World Cup with people no doubt wearing yet more sportswear.
“Looking forward, in common with many UK retailers, we continue to anticipate an extremely challenging retail landscape, particularly within our physical stores, as a result of reduced footfall and rising costs.” he said.
This sportswear as a fashion trend is slowing, but sportswear is beyond a trend, now, and it’s a lifestyle and ease of dressing that is resonating around the world and to every age group. These once dominant British high-street stars are contracting and they are cutting off limbs (menswear) to save the vital organs. Karl Lagerfeld once said, “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You lost control of your life so you bought some sweatpants.” He couldn't be more wrong.
Menswear is often viewed in isolation. Many designers or brands who produce both men’s and women’s clothes often keep them apart when showing them to the press. The times they are together, the menswear often looks conservative and dowdy compared to its feminine counterpart.
Left - Topman AW18
So, it was with some excitement, when I attended the newly merged Topman/Topshop AW18 preview a few months ago, that the menswear was louder than the women’s. Looking across the room I thought I'd stepped to the wrong side. And, let’s be honest, Topshop womenswear isn’t exactly for shy wallflowers.
To me this signified the new confidence in high-street menswear and menswear in general. Topman has had a rocky patch of late and could have easily played safe and opted for simple basics and proven product. But, no, this was like a wardrobe for Harry Styles’ global world tour! A new Global Design Director, overseeing both Topman and Topshop, Anthony Cuthbertson, had arrived from Just Cavalli.
It’s as though Gucci has pushed the door open for this type of exhibitionist menswear and the British high-street has, literally, kicked it open. I don’t think menswear has been this colourful and bold since Tommy Nutter was a leading figure.
Right - Versace taste, lemonade budget?! AW18 River Island
And, it’s not just Topman. It’s River Island, ASOS, boohoo and many others who are reacting to an experimental male consumer who isn’t constrained by gender or the feeling of conforming.
Victoria Hunt, Senior Designer, River Island, says, “Menswear trends have been bolder of late, so there’s been a natural progression towards more adventurous clothing; not just at River Island, but across the entire industry. Catwalks are pushing the limits and this trickles down to make standout fashion more readily available."
“The trend for loud prints and statement pieces seems to be a natural fit for our men’s consumer, so we’ve really embraced it. We are also consciously driving the brand to be more cohesive across all of our departments, although our menswear, womenswear and kidswear customers are all different our collections should be instantly recognisable as River Island.” says Hunt.
Shane Chin, Menswear Design Manager, boohooMAN, says,“At boohooMAN we listen and learn from our customer and grow our collections to suit our guy. It’s a really exciting time for boohooMAN and we’re lucky to have a broad customer base that isn’t afraid to go after new trends and styles.”
“Ideas have been taken mainly from street style and considering how our guy will ultimately wear and style the garments we design. I think the resurgence of Gucci has put a real focus on bringing the fun side back to fashion and by mixing this with the current focus on streetwear, we’ve been able to push the boundaries further in the collections.” says Chin
Street style, influencers and social media seems to be playing a massive part of this growth in experimentation. One is feeding the other and so the cycle continues. These are items made for Instagram and the frenzy to standout on the platform. These are the type of clothes that make better pictures.
Left - Sequin trackies? Topman AW18 Like sequins? See TheChicGeek's picks here
“We gather ideas from all areas as inspiration for our designs: street style, editorials, art and travel to name a few. There are a lot of the big fashion houses pushing bold florals and baroques, but we’re seeing this a lot on the street too. We are always on the look out for new and exciting fashion.” says Hunt.
“Social media has given rise to this in a big way, trends are able to gain momentum so much faster now. Look at the bumbag/cross body bag – who could have predicted that was going to be so huge?” she says.
Designer fashion has become so expensive and, with the younger generation having less money or earning less, these retailers and brands are allowing guys to look as baroque as a Versace model for pocket money prices. I think the affordable prices are encouraging men to be more experimental knowing they haven’t committed as much when it doesn’t cost a month’s rent.
“Menswear is adapting to the growth of social media and the way that style inspo. is so readily available. There’s a real buzz around menswear and it’s exciting to see menswear have more of a focus at fashion weeks around the world, each season. I think the range of brands showing menswear and womenswear in the same shows has also had an effect on people being more inspired by menswear and menswear styling.” says Chin.
It’s interesting that something that was seen as a step back for menswear - the merging of designer catwalk collections - has actually made menswear step up to mirror the womenswear in its distinctive and look-at-me aesthetic and raise its awareness.
Hunt says, “The growth of menswear in general has made high end fashion so much more accessible and relevant to the customer. All over the world, menswear fashion weeks gets so much coverage on social media that men are seeing celebrities and influencers in more experimental trends and dressings and that’s something that they aspire to.
“Just yesterday I was at graduate fashion week and the amount of students choosing to study menswear has grown hugely over the past few years, so there is definitely more to come. It’s also a rebellion in part to the button-down sartorial looks of a few years back. Now, guys want to break and bend the rules, throwing prints, sportswear, tailoring and streetwear together effortlessly.” she says.
It would be silly to suggest that this guy was the majority of men, but it's growing and it’s a younger male consumer who will influence his social circle both on and off-line.
“It’s a really wide demographic – from the well-groomed Ibiza guy that likes to wear a matching twin set by the pool, to the fashionista that clashes three different prints in to one look!” says Hunt.
“The market continues to grow at more than double the rate of womenswear, so it’s not going to slow down any time soon. Men will continue to experiment and it will be exciting to see what’s next – gender is no longer a static thing, so guys don’t feel that they have to conform in the same way. We can be whoever we’d like to be and clothing is a great way of expressing that.” she says.
Right - The sequins keep coming - River Island AW18
Chin says, “I think people’s attitudes towards menswear are changing. Even in the last decade, and in my career to date, menswear trends and styles are becoming more adventurous each year. The lines are blurring and fashion is no longer a womenswear focused arena.”
Affordable menswear has never been produced in such volume and with such experimentation. Sequins, fringing, patches, badges, louder and louder patterns and prints, make this like a sweet shop for modern day Marc Bolans. This feels like a really exciting time for high-street menswear and the British are leading the charge. Where we lead, others will follow, and it’ll be interesting to see where this type of outlandish menswear can go.
Trousers with a go-faster stripe aren’t even fashionable anymore. What???! What I mean is, they’ve become a standard trouser style and they still look good.
It’s a simple and sporty touch to a classic pair of trousers. For work or smarter attire, they just say you know what you’re doing and you can add fashion into a professional and conservative environment.
I noticed this pair in Burton's SS18 collection, they've also got some other really nice bits this season - I wasn't paid to say this! - but, this pair with a delicate red stripe with a zip pocket is what stuck in my memory and at a great price.
I would team them with a plain camp collar shirt and loafers or sandals.
Left & Below - Burton - Side Stripped Trouser - £30
Shopping centres are morphing to survive. Opening cinemas, restaurants and other attractions to get people out of the house and their tenants happy with more footfall, they are trying to move away from being a one trick shopping pony. This is old news.
But, it’s all so chainy and sanitised; the antithesis of what is cool today. It’s basic.
Left - St George’s Market - Belfast
What’s cool today is start-ups, seasonal produce, artisans, craftspeople, farmer’s markets, Boxparks, ethnic food and passionate and motivated people seeing the whites of their customer’s eyes.
Shopping centres need to harness this energy and support it.
I’ve often been jealous of the historical, covered markets they have in many Northern towns. This isn’t poncey, Daylesford Organic type markets, but real markets for everybody, offering quality and affordability. Lots of fresh produce and home made products. I know, if I had one closer, I would use it.
I visited Belfast 18 months ago and fell upon St George’s Market. It was a mid-week wednesday in October and the whole place was buzzing. Built between 1890 and 1896, and supported by The National Lottery, the restoration preserved its Victorian heritage, from the authentic stone bricks to its Bangor Blue roof slates and replicas of original Victorian shops.
As well as restoring an important historical building, the project created a modern market place providing a space to trade and grow for over 170 small local businesses, and supports around 400 jobs each week.
Since its renovation in 1999, St George’s Market has gone from strength to strength, trebling the number of days it trades from one day a week to three. The huge variety and quality of products on offer helps to attract over 600,000 visitors each year. St George’s Market was named the UK's Best Large Indoor Market 2014 by the National Association of British Market Authorities.
There were signs on the doors saying there was a wait-list for stalls. It was a mix of food, arts and crafts, vintage artefacts and unique gifts. Of course, not everything was to the highest taste, but that’s the point of a market, it’s an excitement of discovery and unpredictablity. The opposite of a modern and bland shopping centre. It was thriving and it had an energy that I wanted to spend time in.
I recently visited Centre:MK in Milton Keynes. It’s a busy, 1970s listed shopping centre at the heart of the city. I had a walk around and noticed, huddled under a flyover type structure, was an outside market: little stalls selling vegetables and other types of street market products.
Shopping centres need to bring this inside, polish it up a bit and expand it. But not sanitise it. These types of markets were often looked down upon, much like Primark was - Read more here - but things change and we need a return to a type of frequent shopping that we’ve been doing for thousands of years.
Right - Kirkgate Market - Leeds
This is the modern version of an ancient market. Somewhere I can get great bread, home-made chocolates for presents and authentic products from all the nationalities who have made their home in the UK.
I live in Croydon. They opened a Boxpark over a year ago. It’s fantastic. It’s a large food court which feels like you’re trying something new and getting passion in every mouthful. It’s just food and you congregate on large communal tables in the centre after visiting what feels like an unlimited choice of cuisines.
People are just as tired of chain restaurants as they are of chain stores. It’s time for independents. These shopping centres could support whole armies of people itching to start their own enterprise. There are so many people wanting to follow their dreams and try something new without the prohibitive cost of opening a shop or starting a website. These brands are very active on social media and offer newness and a point of difference.
Large towns and highly populated areas could easily sustain a thriving market type concept. The shopping centre needs to be an umbrella rather than a controller. The other shops would benefit from more frequent visitors and the buzz of the shopping centre. This is also how future brands will start.
Remember Marks & Spencer started on a market stall in Leeds after all.
I think we all know how competitive it is at the lower end of the clothing market. But, it was an e-mail, a few weeks ago, from Marks & Spencer that really summed up where we are. It was announcing their new range of men’s ‘Quick Dry Swim Shorts’, all pretty standard for this time of year, but it was the price that caught my eye. A bargain £10! This is cheaper than Topman, cheaper than River Island and even New Look. It’s certainly cheap for M&S and, then, you realise all the retailers are busy racing to the bottom.
What this means is, in order for those companies to make money, they need to shift a hell of a lot of product. British retailers are currently playing a game of poker, holding their hand i.e. keeping prices low, waiting for their competitors to fold.
Left - Pep&Co at Poundland SS17
But, if this game wasn’t tough enough, new competition is entering the market which will only increase pressure on those margins and unsustainable volumes.
For example, Poundland has entered the clothing market. Their in-house brand, Pep&Co, launched into stores in March this year.
They've already opened over 50 Poundland shop-in-shops with another 50 or so planned for the second half of 2017. The chain, which was bought by the South African group Steinhoff International, expects to put Pep&Co clothing outlets in up to 200 of its 850 stores over the longer term.
Pep&Co was founded by Andy Bond, who once ran Asda’s George clothing label, with backing from the South African tycoon and Steinhoff shareholder Christo Wiese.
The first shop opened in Kettering, Northamptonshire, in July 2015 and the chain opened its first 50 stores in less than two months.
If people are wearing Poundland, it means they aren’t wearing another brand. This isn’t about sneering at this end of the market, it’s about wondering who will go out of business first. It's unsustainable.
The market is saturated and these business models only work if you can order huge volumes and shift it fast.
This is new competition for all the supermarket brands plus Peacocks and Primark and traditional high-street retailers like M&S and Debenhams are more keenly pricing their offering. Add discount brands such as TK Maxx and the neverending discounts and sales and you have an environment that is harder to make profit in.
Consumers are being squeezed with higher inflation and low wages and are generally satisfied with cheaper clothes. They can't or don't want to pay more.
Then add the internet, with Boohoo offering bargain fashion-led clothing and websites such as EverythingFivePounds, where everything is, literally, five pounds, and you have the perfect storm to implode some of the giants of the British high-street. Arcadia, the owner of Topman, is already seeing revenues fall and Topman is looking increasingly expensive against the competition.
In this game of pound wars poker, who will run out of chips and fold first?
Left - Louis Vuitton? No, Everythingfivepounds - £5