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Portas says future is bright for UK’s indies

Mary Portas, creative director of brand consultancy Yellow Door and presenter of BBC series Mary Queen of Shops, is confident that changing shopping habits have secured the future of independent fashion retailers across the country.
Speaking at this week’s Drapers Fashion Summit, Portas identified soaring rates and a high street overrun by multiples as the biggest threats to indies. But she was confident that indies that provided good customer service could carve a niche for themselves and find a place in the evolving UK fashion landscape.

“The local understanding that independents bring to fashion is essential,” said Portas. “Fashion requires expertise, flair and, in terms of independent retail, it requires a taste level. Customers go to the great boutiques to buy into that taste level. It’s about the editing and, in some examples, the curating of a shop. It’s all about understanding your customer and having an ability to lead and guide that customer.”

Portas said that by recruiting designers, some multiples were bringing elements of the luxury market down to high street level, providing an added challenge for independents. But she maintained that there would be fallout on the high street. “It started in the 1960s when UK fashion first became accessible. But now we have too many shops and too much product. Some big players will begin losing out, as they did in the 1970s and early 1990s,” she said.

Portas explained that part of this shift will be driven by the changing shopping habits of 30-plus consumers. She said: “The over 30s will start buying less fashion and will start spending more on fewer investment pieces.”

She said this was partly a backlash to the disposable culture of value fashion. “We have a very big global landfill problem because of the volume of clothes thrown away,” she said. “People will begin shopping locally again and this will help indies. It’s already happening in groceries. In the 30-plus market there is a renewed desire to support local shopping.”

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