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Penny Cooke

Drapers probes leading independents to get their View from the Shop Floor.

How is trade at the moment?
At the moment it is fine, our January Sale is up 25%. Sales have been driven by the level of discounting. We also didn’t have a sale before Christmas.

How has the ethical market been affected by the economic downturn?
I’m doing lots of buying at the moment and speaking to many sales representatives, and the feedback I’m getting is the ethical market is holding up ok. There is an added reason to buy with an ethical garment and it is generally a more considered purchase, which suits the current climate.

Is ethical still a priority for shoppers over price?
Pricing is always one of the most important things, but we have a core customer base who always buys ethical and that has remained strong. Since October/November we’ve seen more of a trend for considered purchases, with people being more thoughtful about what they’re buying and less impulsive, which fits in with the ethical concept very well.

How has your pricing been affected, will it have to go up for autumn?
Hopefully not, but it’s a big issue for us now. A couple of the big labels sell in euros, so we have to be much more considered with what we buy. I don’t want to put them up and I don’t want to reduce them, it’s really affecting the way I buy. I am looking more closely at English labels.

Are their certain areas or categories that are doing better, for example fair-trade over organic? 
Organic seems to be the one people care most about, which is a shift from when we first opened. But it’s difficult to say, each customer cares about something different; for some it’s the environmental side, for some it’s the social side.

What advice do you have for ethical retailers in the current climate?
When you’ve got a USP it helps, especially as consumers are becoming more aware of throw away fashion. People are thinking a lot more about what they are buying and ethical garments are investment pieces; we’re in a stronger position than a lot of retailers. Ethical fashion might come out of this recession stronger, less niche and more mainstream, with people starting to shift their buying behaviour.

Which brands do you stock?
Eden, Del Forte jeans, Kuyichi. 

Which brands are selling well in your store at the moment?
Eden is our best selling brand this season; it’s the label from Bono’s wife Ali Hewson. On accessories, Matt & Nat handbags have also been doing well. 

What are the biggest challenges facing you?
The challenge is being able to offer clothing that is really desirable that would stand up against any label on the high street. We’re definitely getting there though.

Are you expanding at all?
We do want to expand, but at the moment we just want to keep going. In the next 18 months we’re looking to open an additional store in London.

Penny Cooke owner of ethical womenswear indie Equa in Islington, north London

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