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THE DAY THE HIGH STREET REOPENED…

Updated: Sep 6, 2022

Blog by Poppy Smith for Circular Economy Wardrobe


Following a development in COVID-19 Scottish Government Guidelines, Retail Shops were allowed to open their doors on the 29th June 2020 for the first time since the beginning of lockdown. CEW Founder Lynn Wilson and I were eager to assess whether quarantine had changed consumers perceptions of garment purchasing and focused our efforts on Edinburgh’s high street.


Shoppers entering Topshop as the store welcomed customers back– Princes Street, Edinburgh


FIRST STOP: PRIMARK

The day started at 7:30am observing a queue of people awaiting Primark’s reopening an hour later. The line was populated with approximately 100 people waiting from the shop’s entrance to around the corner of Princes Street and winding up into Frederick Street. A pair of police officers stood alongside those queuing which seemed an almost unnecessary precaution with the crowd keeping social distance amongst one another and queueing patiently in an orderly manner. When questioned about their presence by Lynn, the officers explained the force had been regularly asked when retail shops where to once again open and this suggested there was to be potential chaos when the day finally came.


The beginning of the queue of consumers waiting to enter Primark – Princes Street, Edinburgh


Before this blog goes further, it’s important to clarify what type of company Primark is to be able to analyse the consumer demand. Primark is a product of the phenomenon: ‘Fast Fashion’ meaning new garments and styles are produced quickly and therefore cheaply in order to keep up with the latest ‘fashion trends’.


With an increasing awareness of the negative consequences associated with producing fast fashion (such as poor garment worker wages and environmental impacts), why is Primark’s consumer demand still at an all-time high? In connection to lock-down, I believe there are an array of reasons…


Consumers browsing the store after the doors had opened – Princes Street, Edinburgh


Shoppers are given access to baskets to enable easier shopping


The first being the price of Primark’s clothing. Their fashion line is a cheaper alternative to many other brands and as a result of the retailer not engaging in e-commerce – this may be the first-time certain individuals have been able to buy clothes since restrictions began in March.


Furthermore, many people are economically suffering from the enforced lockdown with redundancies and furloughs a common consequence. This can strain one’s finances and limit the budget an individual has to be able buy clothes for themselves (or for others).


Primark’s business model enables consumers to acquire a lot of ‘bang for their buck’. You can buy a multitude of garments which ultimately cost you the price of what a singular item in another high street retailer would. This lures in a vast quantity of consumers who want to expand their wardrobe at a less extensive cost.


Therefore, lockdown restrictions may not have influenced consumers to question their purchasing behaviours if they can’t afford to take the ‘ethical high-ground’.


Individuals who buy Primark’s clothing in bulk to expand their closet for a cheaper fee should ask themselves do I really need this? Using techniques such as the 30-wear question enables this type of thinking i.e. will I wear this at least 30 times? If not, don’t buy it.


Equally, with such consumers not being able to access Primark’s products for an extended period of time, perhaps an over-zealous approach has been adopted out of excitement rather than actual need.


Two customers with their purchased goods in hand


SECOND STOP: TOPSHOP, ZARA AND H&M

Topshop, Zara and H&M are popular, prominent high street brands of whom opened their doors to customers at 10am on the 29th June, Princes Street, Edinburgh.


The queue forming outside Topshop before its 10am opening – Princes Street, Edinburgh


The queue forming outside Zara before its 10am opening – Princes Street, Edinburgh


The queue forming outside H&M before its 10am opening – Princes Street, Edinburgh


Again, the queues remained calm and upon further investigation H&M had the most measures in place for returning consumers. Greeted at the entrance, a member of staff wearing a protective visor explained to you the rules to follow with hand sanitiser freely available to use.


It was interesting to note that the queues for these three shops were considerably shorter than that of Primark’s (even despite a rather large queuing assembling outside Zara.)


A potential explanation is the online presence these shops possess. With a few clicks of a button, a package from these retailers could appear on your doorstep within a few days during lockdown. Therefore, there may have been less ‘buzz’ around their physical shops re-opening.


Another explanation is the higher price tag that’s associated with these retailers’ garments.


Topshop, Zara and H&M are also fast fashion producers. With queues forming outside their doors, it seemed apparent consumer perception towards garment purchasing hadn’t really changed whilst in lockdown.


The extensive array of garments within Topshop – Princes Street, Edinburgh


In a society were fast fashion is so readily available, at CEW we turn our attention to the future of fashion not as a high street retail commodity but as a service that offers consumers choice to suit their lifestyles and creativity in the way we access fashion.


This article has highlighted the fashion industry from a consumer perspective. However, we recognise that right now we need to raise consumer awareness of the negative implications of fast fashion and also look into the ways the fashion industry can transform into a more sustainable, circular service. The latter will be discussed in an upcoming article written by Lynn Wilson.


One technique used to raise consumer awareness are educational campaigns. They allow readers to understand the far-reaching implications their purchasing habits have on society and our environment. One example is ‘Labour Behind the Label’1 which campaigns for garment worker’s rights worldwide including working conditions as well as wages paid. The campaign uses statistics and an array of resources to get their points across to consumers.


Another campaign, ‘Fashion Revolution’, push for ‘a clean, safe, fair, transparent and accountable fashion industry’ and are using the platform they have manifested to transform the system with emphasis on education consumers on the matters in hand. They recognise a structural change is needed to transform the Fashion industry and that our voices have the power to do so. A key quote of their campaign is ‘Together, we will create a revolution’. 2


The logos of the campaigns designed to educate and motivate consumers to take action within the fashion Industry


1 https://labourbehindthelabel.org

2 https://www.fashionrevolution.org

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