Fashion is fast changing, surprising and creative.
Fashion is fast changing, surprising and creative. The same, it seems, is true of fashion stores themselves, which stand out in an area of the high street where shops come and shops go, but they never stop trying new openings.
We have been poring over the openings and closings for the past few weeks since Mary Portas was appointed by the Government to review the future of the high street. We were surprised to find that, underneath the headline reality of poor May trading, the less obvious reality is that even in bad times optimists never stop opening the doors on new retail ventures.
In the depths of the recession in 2009, two retail lights were going out for every one that switched on, but even then more than 5,000 new independents added their light to the high street. Today there is close to parity on openings and closings and the trend, if it continues, will generate a surplus of openings and start to wear away at the town centre vacancy rate of 14.5%.
These optimists (you have to be an optimist to be a retailer) face a hard task. Town shopping streets do not provide a supportive environment for new businesses. Councils seem intent on driving footfall away with high parking charges, while the out-of-town alternatives are free.
Landlords may help with honeymoon periods on leases, but nationally they continue to drive up rents, and planners still allow more out-of-town stores.
But in the midst of all that, there is also some good news. Sales are poor but the unemployment figures are surprisingly good and that, coupled with the likelihood that interest rates will stay low for a while yet, is likely to have a warming effect on consumer confidence.
Like those independents, I’m an optimist.
Alan Hawkins is chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association