High street retail River Island

If the headlines were to be believed you’d think the high-street was in terminal decline and everybody was withdrawing at the speed of knots. Store closures across the board and brands shrinking to survive, it’s armageddon on the high-street, they scream!

The retail market has always seen brands or chains crash and burn over the years. It’s part of the retail renewal cycle and allows others to appear and grow.

Left - River Island's new expanded store at Milton Keynes' Centre:MK

"As consumers, we are becoming more and more demanding, each new level of service experienced serves to simply raise the bar even higher. In the UK in February 2018 online accounted for 17.2% of total sales (source ONS). Whilst this is still increasing (15.6% in February 2017) it is still a relatively small proportion of total sales meaning that over 80% is from the high-street. So, it is clear that the high-street is far from dead but it is evolving at a rapid rate - Darwinism on the high-street if you like, where the process of evolution naturally culls the weak whilst the strong prosper and survive,” says Andrew Busby, Founder & CEO Retail Reflections.

Continuing to grow, online retail sales leapt to 18.8% last month - April 2018 - and it won’t be long before it hits 20% and maybe even 30%. For the offline retail optimist, though, it means 80% is left for the taking offline in physical stores.

But, while the focus has been on chains closing stores - M&S announced 100 stores closing by 2022 - there are a few strong and growing brands stealthily tightening their hold and grip on the high-street. The focus is on bigger and better stores in premium locations: less stores but better.

As brands vacate premium sites other brands can cherry-pick and expand into the gaps, but only in the top tier of shopping centres and cities.

For example, both Zara and River Island are carrying out major expansions of their stores at Intu Lakeside. River Island will be doubling the size of its store to 21,000 sq ft while Zara will treble its store size to 35,000 sq ft making the stores among the largest in the retailers’ portfolios. They are the latest retailers to invest in flagship stores at Intu Lakeside since H&M doubled the size of its store to 36,000 sq ft and Next opened an expanded 70,000 sq ft store in Spring 2017. 

When Banana Republic vacated Westfield White City, Zara took the opportunity to create the biggest branch in the UK. River Island recently doubled the size of its store in Centre:MK in Milton Keynes. The retailer doubled its existing unit to 20,000 sq ft to accommodate the brand’s full range of womenswear, menswear and children’s fashion ranges.

Nick Tahir, River Island, Head of Menswear Buying says, “We have over 300 stores in the UK. In an increasingly competitive high street, it is important to keep River Island stores looking fresh, relevant and exciting. With 30 years heritage, naturally some stores will require a makeover and in some towns/cities and that has been a key focus for us, we have also been increasing our square footage, to accommodate the needs of our customer and our growing divisions (for example we launched RI Kids and RI Mini only a couple of years back and the demand is consistently growing).”

“Although retailers are seeing an impact on bricks and mortar due to mobile and online, retail is still the biggest mix of sales for us. With our heritage, stores will always play an important role. They are the heartbeat of the River Island. The challenge for us and our peers in the industry, is to keep our customers coming back again and again. We do this by enhancing their shopping experience – whether that’s through pop-ups and exclusive events, or through offering something that our customers can’t find with some of our competitors; take Style Studio for example, our complimentary Personal Shopping service. It is vital for us to keep revamping and improving our store aesthetic to draw footfall, creating theatre through VM and windows and of course constantly refreshing our product offering to stay relevant and exciting.” says Tahir.

As stores grow larger at key shopping hot spots, retailers can give fewer locations more attention and fine tune, update and invest in those locations. But, what this will also mean is many towns will lose their well known names and become secondary as the money is sucked into fewer, bigger places.

“Most retailers with a large store estate have too much space so what we're also seeing (landlord rent restrictions aside) is an expected re-sizing and in some cases re-purposing of space eg. Debenhams considering renting out space to WeWork.” says Busby.

“All this means that the stores which survive will need to be far better than those we currently experience. For example, the poor quality of the Toys R Us stores was a major factor in it collapsing into administration.” he says.

High street retail Zara

“But the fascinating dynamic is that quality and customer experience in store is largely dependent upon the particular shopping journey ie. if it's a distressed purchase then the customer just wants to get in, find what they need, pay and leave - as seamlessly as possible. However, if it's for say a luxury item they may well welcome, indeed, seek out engagement and advice; being quite happy to spend far longer. Both journeys will be judged by different criteria. The trick for retailers is to recognise what journey we're on and act accordingly. Facial recognition and AI is going a long way to be able to tell what mood we are in when we enter the store.” says Busby.

Right - Zara's new store at Westfield Stratford 

The shopping centre companies know this too. The recently abandoned £3.4bn tie-up between Hammerson and Intu failed, I think, because Hammerson were probably only interested in a handful of their top sites like Manchester’s Trafford Centre. Trying to offload or revive the others would be costly and a distraction and knowing where the market is heading, it knows it’ll probably be able to bid on what it wants individually if Intu starts to wobble in the foreseeable future. 

In order to survive it’s going to be about fewer players with less but stronger sites. As more close, it strengthens those which are left. If you believed the newspapers you’d think that every retailer had given up on physical stores, but the clever ones are only getting started. When the growth in online slows or plateaus, these proactive retailers will be positioned to take full advantage of the eventual return to the high-street.

Read more expert ChicGeek Comments - here

Monday, 14 May 2018 15:48

Label To Know Alfie Douglas

Leather rucksack made in england Alfie Douglas

When East London became cool it was the area near Old Street, stretching to Hoxton Square and Curtain Road, that became the main focus. Rivington Street was the central style artery with fashion shops and bars.

Fast forward 15 years and it’s jumped to Redchurch Street, Shoreditch High Street and Kingsland Road. The area became somewhat dead, but, now, it’s starting a new renaissance.

Left - Alfie Douglas - Large Backpack - £380

Charlotte Road, just across from the new Nobu Hotel and running along to Rivington Street has seen Anatome - the new health and wellbeing brand from Brendan Murdock open - and, just by chance, as I walked past the other day, Alfie Douglas - a made in London leather bag brand, which I’d never heard of before.

Launched in 2014, Alfie Douglas is a family named and run, handmade leather goods brand, ethically sourcing all components and designing in their studio in London.

The collection includes everything from oversized totes, backpacks and duffle bags to camera cases and tool-kit covers. The latest collection features styles designed to suit a busy life, each distinctive in the way they look and ingenious in the way that they can be adapted and customised to every individual carrying them. 

The minimal, utilitarian designs made from beautiful hand stitched leather are classic, functional bags that demonstrate a subtle and distinguished luxury.

Made in London from Italian leather, what I noticed most was the thickness of the leather and the simplicity of the designs. While slightly feminine shapes, if you choose a larger size it becomes more masculine. This is leather that will last and, while not cheap, offers great value.

Below - Alfie Douglas - Zero Large - £300

Leather rucksack made in england Alfie Douglas

The real reason luxury fashion companies are no longer using real fur

This article isn’t a discussion on the pros and cons of real fur and offers no moral viewpoint on its use. I acknowledge that this contentious issue/material is divisive and has passion on both sides. 

The real ‘fur’ industry has seen massive growth, since the beginning of this century, driven by international consumers and trims on accessories and coats. It is now a $40 billion industry. It was inevitable that it would have a backlash and there would be a reaction to it, most notably from younger consumers. 

I put ‘fur’ into speech marks because it’s a very broad term and while some brands may no longer use mink they continue to use the skins of other animals and there’s no definitive reason for the choice of some animals making the used list and not the others. Read more here - ChicGeek Comment Fur Debate: You Either Use Animals Or You Don’t

Brands such as Gucci, Versace and Martin Margiela have decided to announce they will no longer use real fur. Donatella Versace recently said, “Fur? I am out of that,” she said. “I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion. It doesn’t feel right.”

“Naturally we were disappointed to hear that Versace has said it won’t use real fur in collections. However, the majority of top designers will continue to work with fur as they know it is a natural product that is produced responsibly. When Donatella Versace says ‘I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion.’ presumably her company will soon stop using silk and leather?” says Andrea Martin from the British Fur Trade Association.

“It is disingenuous to claim that leather is a by-product of the meat industry, a cow still had to die to provide the product. Silk cocoons are placed in boiling water to help unravel the thread with the silk worm inside,” says Martin.

Italian accessories brand Furla has formally declared that it will be banning fur from its collections from November of this year, which would coincide with the launch of its Cruise ’19 collections. This follows decisions by Michael Kors and Yoox Net-A-Porter, which has declared that all its stores and websites would be real fur-free zones.

“I think some of the brands have gone fur free under pressure from anti-fur trends, and some are genuinely concerned. If brands don’t want to use animals for fashion then they need to consider leather, exotic skins, silk, sheepskin, makeup and products, all of which use animals. I also think human welfare is important to consider when producing fashion, and this often gets forgotten.” says Rebecca Bradley, a London based fur designer.

So, why are luxury brands really dropping the use of real fur? 

I think it is pure economics and the high margin greed of today’s luxury industry. It’s the same reason many restaurants are pushing vegetarian and vegan options: the margins are higher and therefore the profit. By charging slightly lower prices for something which is much cheaper to make, the margins increase. There are only so many €25,000 full-fur coats a brand will sell and the ceiling price is sensitive, so you can’t factor in the same margins you would on your other products. If you make it in faux-fur you'll get a higher margin and a bigger percentage of profit. You’ll also sell more and probably generate more money overall.

The irony is, the reason a real fur coat is so expensive is because of the high welfare standards of the European producers. Luxury brands wouldn’t be able to use cheaper real-fur from other sources witout criticism and scrutiny.

“Fur coats may seem expensive, however the price of a fur coat should reflect a high standard of animal welfare, and therefore with a beautiful, high quality fur, many skilled people are involved with production, including a furrier, and finisher to create a fur coat that will last for many generations, ” says Bradley.

Fur, for the majority of brands, is a very small part of their businesses and therefore it’s not difficult to heroically declare you’re no longer going to use it. It’s also easily replaced by a cheaper, synthetic alternative while not altering the price very much or at all. You can paint the use of a fake fur trim as an ethical choice rather than a cost saver to the consumer. It’s cynical I know, but it’s working.

PETA’s Director, Elisa Allen, says, “Fur is dead, dead, dead. As well as making sense for designers' conscience, ditching fur makes business sense, as today's consumers are demanding animal and eco-friendly clothing for which no animal has been electrocuted, strangled, or caught in a steel-jaw trap. From Armani to Versace, the list of fur-free designers is growing every day, and innovative vegan fashion is on the rise. The tide has turned irrevocably, and there's no going back.”

Many brands used the word ‘sustainable’ when announcing their decision to no longer use real-fur, but again, this is another term in fashion that is very broad and has little full meaning until you see the detail. I’m not sure a fake fur coat is particularly sustainable, but then again it does depend on the material.

But, you also have to acknowledge that nobody needs to wear a real fur coat. We could easily survive without real fur, but it’s interesting how, out of all the animal products we use, this is one of the most offensive to some and creates the biggest reactions and protests.

The real fur industry continues to grow in China and with other newly rich consumers and markets. It is now a US$17 billion-a-year industry in China and Haining, near Shanghai, is its hub.. Fur companies will be a bit like tobacco companies: the falling sales in established markets will be replaced by growing sales in new and even bigger markets in Asia.

Chinese animal welfare standards are very different from European standards. European producers have very strict regulations and it’s an industry which has to be transparent in order to ward off criticism.

“We respect the fashion industry’s attempts to become more responsible for the products they produce. Animal welfare is of critical importance and the fur produced is farmed to the highest welfare standards.” says Martin.

“With growing concern about the environment and plastics we believe it is more responsible to move back to the use of natural, biodegradable materials. Fur is the natural and responsible choice for designers and consumers.” says Martin.

Ditching fur is quite a lazy way for luxury brands to try to be more ‘sustainable’ and look like they care about the environment. 

“I think that companies and consumers becoming educated and aware of origins of products and materials is a fantastic thing, but the focus needs to be across the board, ensuring standards of human, or animal welfare and environmental impact.” says Bradley.

Many brands are seeing real fur as something they live without and it’s more hassle than it’s worth if the profit and quantities aren’t there. You can pick holes into both sides of the fur debate. While a positive move for many, the decision to no longer use real fur is really a cleverly spun business decision and driven by their continued obsession for huge margins.

Read more expert ChicGeek Comments - here

Thursday, 03 May 2018 13:30

Get The Look Wild Wild Country

Get The Look Menswear Wild Wild Country Netflix'

Rolls Royce’s best customer, the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was the compelling, albeit fairly silent, star of the recent Netflix documentary, Wild Wild Country.

Dressed in his long-flowing finery he was surrounded by his adoring followers all wearing a spectrum of reds. 

Left - The cult's followers wearing their red colour palette

Get The Look Menswear Wild Wild Country Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh'

Also known as Osho, the story followers the Bhagwan, his one-time personal assistant Ma Anand Sheela and their community of followers in Rajneeshpuram, aka Antelope, located in Wasco County, Oregon during the 1980s. 

Right - The Bhagwan

This commune was a place of free love and followed the teachings of the Bhagwan. His taste for the finer things in life - 93 Roll Royces! - is part of the madness of it all.

Get The Look Menswear Wild Wild Country Uniqlo red T-shirt'Left - Uniqlo - Men Supima Cotton Crew Neck Short Sleeve T-Shirt - £9.90

The reason they wore reds was to represent “the colours of the rising or setting sun”, as well as beaded necklaces with a locket containing a picture of the Bhagwan's face. It’s fascinating how everybody is wearing something different while conforming to the same colour chart.

I’m expecting Pantone to release a ‘Bhagwan Red’ next year, which would be a crimson/berry red. But you can get in early by buying anything on this colour chart with no logos or branding.

Get The Look Menswear Wild Wild Country Bershka red bomber jacket'Left - Berska - Bomber Jacket - £19.99

The community imploded, but I won’t spoil it. Let’s just say it makes me rethink about eating from the salad cart at the local Harvester!

Get The Look Menswear Wild Wild Country American Apparel'Left - American Apparel - Cranberry Hoodie - £34

Get The Look Menswear Wild Wild Country Spoke coral trousers'Left - Spoke - Coral - £89

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

Get The Look Menswear Wild Wild Country Netflix'Get The Look Menswear Wild Wild Country ASOS red trousers'Left - ASOS - Skinny Smart Trousers In Strawberry Red - £20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get The Look Menswear Wild Wild Country Your Turn ASOSLeft - YOURTURN - Dip Dye T-Shirt In Red - £12 from ASOS

Get The Look Menswear Wild Wild Country Ted Baker red shorts'Left - Ted Baker - Proshor Chino Short - £69 from House of Fraser

Get The Look Menswear Wild Wild Country Rivieras red espadrilles'
Left - Rivieras - Classic 10 Canvas Loafers - £50 from matchesfashion.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get The Look Menswear Wild Wild Country Buscemi trainers Harvey Nichols'Left - Buscemi - 100mm Guts Red Leather Hi-Top Trainers -£670 from Harvey Nichols

More Get The Looks - The Assassination of Gianni Versace - hereGet The Look Menswear Wild Wild Country Netflix'

The End of 'Influence'

It feels like we’re one data breach, revelation or exposé away from deleting Facebook. Not to mention all the other platforms. Some of us have been on these social media channels for nearly a decade and we’re tired. Social media is starting to feel a bit of a chore and people are reassessing their relationship with it. The novelty factor is waning and it seems like we’re bored of seeing the same images repeated and, even those who’ve made it their business to ‘influence’, via social media - ‘Influencers’ - seem bored themselves of making and posting the same images.

“There’s definitely a sense of content and Facebook fatigue and more importantly, a loss of trust. As a first-gen blogger, it was trust that built our communities ten years ago and that was in no small part because at that time blogging was purely a passion project, not for commercial gain,” says Navaz Batliwalla, editorial consultant and blogger at Disneyrollergirl.net

“The reason social media content has become formulaic is down to the cynical commercialisation of it all. To reach mass eyeballs, your content has to be fairly mainstream which is why so many blogs and legacy media have adapted similar aesthetics and tones of voice. It’s diluted the uniqueness and personality. Inevitably, it becomes a slog to create that sort of formulaic content too, so the creators themselves get bored - and it shows.” says Batliwalla.

Instagram has clearly peaked and it being the centre of brands’ and people’s focus is changing. There are only so many flat-whites or magnolia trees people are going to be interested in. It’s all got very annoying and basic.

Instagram recently made changes so people can no longer manipulate engagement and artificially increase following. Those who think they’ve got more engagement than Elizabeth Taylor will now have to rely solely on the whims of their ‘followers’ and it’s almost certain they won’t be able to sustain their likes and followers in a market that is mature and growing bored.

“For me, the big content killer has been the algorithmic changes. Bloggers who relied on Instagram for their main income have panicked as their engagement plunged since the introduction of Instagram’s changes last year. I noticed certain tactics like comment pods and lengthy over-shary posts, a kind of desperate click-bait attempt to keep followers interested. It’s also the reason for so many more ‘look at me’-type posts because selfies and outfit posts tend to get better engagement on Instagram. But again, with certain influencers, it just doesn’t come naturally and it’s a turnoff to their followers.  I'’ve been there myself! Finally, the sheer volume of sponsored posts is exhausting to read. It’s too much.” says Batliwalla.

For me, it was when they allowed you to save your best Instagram Stories - ‘Story Highlights’ - that I felt like this had become a job and required too much thought, rather than something fun and interactive. The more things they introduce, the heavier it all becomes. You see people tapping away on their Facebook accounts on their phones on the train: liking pictures, commenting and keeping up. It’s like a full-time job. People will reduce the amount of their free time they spend on these sites.

Even the biggest ‘Influencers’ can’t rely on their numbers. Just look at people like Ella Mills - Deliciously Ella - 1.3m Instagram followers, closing her delis, Millie Mackintosh, reality star and influencer - 1.3m Instagram followers, folding her clothing line, and the ultimate influencer of all Victoria Beckham - 19.6m Instagram followers, made around 60 workers redundant recently after new investors ordered a review of the business.

We do have to acknowledge the green-eyed monster in the reporting of Influencers, especially by traditional press. These attractive people living their best life and getting paid to do it. Beats working in McDonald’s. But, it’s got crowded, they’re not cute forever and we’ve all seen that ‘wow’ picture before. Ultimately, unless they’re traditionally famous, have a respected talent or you fancy them, why the fuck do you care about what they are doing? It seems strange that so many people are supposed to care about people they don’t know. They don’t.

Christophe Brumby, Creative Strategist at Amplify (brand experience agency for clients like Facebook, Google and Spotify) says, “As publishers see their influence wane and as Influencers fight for control, everyone is taking matters in their own hands… What we are seeing as a result is a new age of convergence where publishers such as Refinery 29 are turning their staff into influencers and where influencers are starting their own publishing ventures with the likes of Street Dreams, a collective of creators rooted in photography, bringing their community offline through a print magazine, photo walks and shows. It may not be long before we see publishers and influencers teaming up together to maintain relevance with their audiences while reducing their dependence on social platforms.”

“Social media did not invent influence but in bringing the ‘social’ into traditional media, they dramatically changed the rules of the game. Social media have atomised and democratised influence, effectively transferring power from the traditional media to every individual user; turning everyone into a potential influencer capable of measuring their personal media value,” says Brumby.

“Despite a rise in marketing spend, many influencers argue that the current model is not sustainable as platforms and brands are taking advantage of a highly fragmented landscape where they do not hold much leverage as individuals. On the one hand, they are increasingly reliant on the platforms that ultimately own their audiences and dictate the rules of engagement, often feeling at the mercy of sudden algorithm changes," says Brumby.

In a recent article in the Financial Times about the death of Influencers, it quoted a fashion PR director saying, “Whatever you do — don't market yourself as an Influencer. Stick to journalism. That's a proper craft.” There's definitely a feeling of distancing themselves from the label 'Influencer'.

Robin James, digital content producer, Youtube creator and blogger says “I don’t use social media in my personal life. It’s not real life and I find it exhausting, It takes a lot from you without giving back and a feeling of you’re missing life. That said, there’s a flip side, Instagram Stories is the real side of what ‘Influencers’ are up to.”

“Audiences are going through Instagram double tapping without reading and being social media zombies. In terms of business, I produce stuff with more thought and heart and not just a pretty picture. That sort of production and quality of content will survive. I tried to take the production down slightly to be more connected to an audience and become a bit more raw,” he says.

James recently qualified as a barber to give himself more expertise in the grooming arena, “I decided to do that to have a lot more authority, and become an expert in an area. One was editorial and secondly, was commercially: I can do this, I can cut and style it. I trained for six months.”

So, what’s next? What would we do with all that spare time if we reduced our ‘socialising’?! I think there’s a place for something like Facebook, but more a Wikipedia model of philanthropy. Run just to wipe its face, it would be more like what a lot of people think Facebook is rather than a huge marketing site.

I think we’ll see a return to searched for, permanent, or as permanent as the internet allows, content. People looking for something and finding a trusted voice.

Everybody is striving for authority and longevity. I think those ‘Influencers’ who have nothing to say or say nothing with disappear. The rest will have to evolve to beyond just the visual and sound bites as the audience matures and also, no doubt, the next wave of young consumers will be into something else.

Will we see the end of thirsty attention seekers seeking validation on Instagram? Probably not, but I think it’s definitely had its moment. Marketeers, who always take a while to catch up, will continue to chuck money at this for a little while yet, but it’ll fall off soon. 

But where do we go next? Good print isn’t dead, but, ultimately, it’s digital. 

“I’ve noticed a renewed interest in long form content, more like essays. People are yearning to read blogs again. Informed opinions, observations, not just news and product reviews. I write a monthly insights email (called The Beauty Conversation) with two beauty industry colleagues and we’re nurturing our community to build trust and engagement.  It’s not about numbers at all, but the relevance and quality of our audience and our niche content.” says Batliwalla.

Everything has become so disposable and ultimately forgettable. This is the modern life we live, but it will bounce back, not fully, but partially.

Can you remember when you met somebody new and you’d say “What’s your Instagram?” That's stopped. I can’t be bothered anymore. It’s full and I don’t want to waste more of my time deleting accounts. As the Instagram hysteria subsides it will take the pressure off ‘reach’ and ;followers; and plateau into a record of pictures for genuine friendship groups. 

All those ‘Influencer Marketing’ companies that have popped up with have to move into digital marketing and have a broader scope. I used to joke that there were more platforms than Clapham Junction. It just doesn’t feel funny anymore.

Read more expert ChicGeek Comments - here

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