As suggested by Laura Quinn, a friend and immensely talented designer and glassblower, I submitted a piece for the Online Sustainability Innovation Conference 2021 held by the University for the Creative Arts (UCA Farnham, UK) entitled 'Is the future of retail independent?'. Although I was unsuccessful in the selected number of papers and speakers for the event, I thought I'd share my piece and open discussion around thoughts on the future of retail (focused towards British consumer culture) and how the events of 2020 have helped to shed light on the possibilities of smaller scale businesses taking over from large corporations that have become household names through the last century.
The 500 word limit prevented me from really diving deep, but it created a good base for my own research and ideas. I recently read a conversation on LinkedIn regarding the fall of the Arcadia group empire alongside names such as Debenhams, House of Fraser, Bonmarché and Peacocks following the start of the pandemic (although sales were dwindling for some time prior to the virus outbreak) with a customer base that is being 'scooped up' by the likes of Pretty Little Thing and Boohoo.com - two brands that are well known for feeding throw-away culture, utilising slave labour and the use of unsustainable production methods, as well as following dishonest business structures.
Written in August 2020 but shared now at the start of 2021 I do believe this possible future is something that will be discussed in greater detail and presented before us in the coming months and years - and frankly as many other things have been demonstrated last year, the power is in the people...what future do you want to see?
Is The Future of Retail Independent - Submission for Online Sustainability Innovation Conference 2021.
Having monitored the retail environment across large and small corporations for the last decade, it has become apparent to me that an increase in popularity for individuals to seek out and support independent brands for their ability to make on demand, offer more unique pieces and to have a closer connection to their customers has grown tenfold. Whilst independent brands have previously been viewed as niche, I believe the tables are set to turn on these no longer being viewed as the lesser alongside giant corporations but instead boasting a power of flexibility and adaptability that big businesses can only dream of. I believe that given the right infrastructure and support, independent brands are set to become invaluable to offering more on-trend, relevant and high quality pieces alongside a more unique and personalised retail experience during a time that sees the power in consumers hands.
In the wake of Covid-19 in 2020, the downfall of many former retail giants such as House of Fraser and Debenhams has been brought to light. Whether the global virus and lack of footfall is to blame, a larger question has been bubbling under the surface for some time - how will these established companies keep up with their customers who are seeking new ventures, new experiences and a better range of items that match what is available at a click of a finger online? When we are able to view hundreds of brands via a single app, cater our selection to a refined selection of our favourite international labels and use visualisation systems that remove the need for a changing room, the appeal of visiting a familiar high-street store with a layout duplicated around the country has certainly lost its touch.
Additionally, there has been a rise in demand for more sustainable practises being adapted by these established high street names. However, what is often not discussed are the struggles that brands have found when it comes to adapting their large scale and decade-old systems. It is not a case of simply working differently next season but rather beginning a transition into a new procedure that could take just as long to re-establish as it did to set up the original method. When viewing this in comparison to the flexibility of an independent brand, and the speed at which consumers are now expecting responses, action and clear results, will there still be a place for large corporations in a sustainable future, or will their once admirable reputation and workforce size continue to prove a hindrance?
Will it ever be possible for us to offer sustainable clothing and accessories at a large scale and can we incorporate circular systems where brands work in harmony with one another as opposed to in competition, or is this simply an eco pipe dream?
Are we doomed to remain in an unsustainable system for as long as traditional marketing, human desire, curiosity and ongoing consumption exist at a large scale?