As Ugg, Matches and Gieves & Hawkes open at Hackney Walk, executive chairman and founder Jack Basrawy talks to Drapers about setting up a new fashion hub in Hackney and how the retail development is taking a new approach to outlet shopping
hackney walk cgi
How did Hackney Walk get started?
We started identifying appropriate sites for an outlet concept about six years ago. The key point came a few months after we started, when the London riots started. Hackney Council was looking at turning the railway arches we wanted to develop into studios, so we went to them with our vision of creating a retail cluster. What we’re trying to do here is create a fashion hub – not just outlet fashion but also commercial office space for the creative industries, from fashion to design to photography.
jack basrawy (2)
Why did you want to start a retail development in Hackney?
A real mixture of factors came together to make Hackney stand out. The improved infrastructure following the Olympics made it much easier and more comfortable for people to access Hackney. Hackney Council is very supportive – in my opinion, the success of Shoreditch is down to the council’s efforts. If you look at the history of the area, Hackney used to be all about manufacturing; it was the garment manufacturing district post war. We’re evolving from that.
What advantages does Hackney Walk offer retailers?
We’re filling a gap in the ecosystem of luxury fashion. Luxury brands were not being represented in this part of the world.
Continuous discounting in store doesn’t do anyone any favours. When you design a store to be on Regent Street or Bond Street, you design it a certain way, to show off a product in a certain way. Those stores aren’t designed for outlet and they don’t suit it – they exist to create a luxury environment and sell the latest product. What we’re trying to do is create a different environment, but not take away from the luxury feel. The architecture and the fittings still feel very luxurious but it allows customers who want to buy off price to have access to the product, and that’s why we’re looking at an outlet centre in an urban environment.
Most outlet centres are out of town – why was it important to you to do something different from traditional outlet centres?
While the traditional outlet model is out of town, with a car park and boundaries, there are no boundaries here. At one end of the road is the high street and at the other end you’ve got schools. Hackney Walk is part of the community. One of the most important aspects of Hackney Walk is working with the community and being part of it. We’re working with Hackney’s Ways Into Work scheme, which trains and puts forward employees who might be suitable for jobs as the stores open. Nike has employed 16 people from the scheme who were previously unemployed.
What has the reaction been like from retailers?
It takes a little bit of explaining to retailers, but not very much. I explain it as a new tool that’s at their disposal. If it’s the end of June, summer 16 is finished and you’ve got autumn stock coming in three or four weeks, you want to sell whatever it is you want to sell, then allow the shop to do what it’s supposed to do and showcase new product. The stock does need to be sold somewhere – I believe this is a good way of introducing that stock to a different demographic.
Who is Hackney Walk’s target customer?
Our main priority for customers is people from east London, then the rest of London and then tourists. With some of the luxury designers stocked at the Matches store at Hackney Walk, the closest some people interested in fashion will have come to those brands is seeing them in a magazine. Although magazines look fantastic, you don’t really see the product close up; as the effort that goes into manufacturing and designing these items is so tremendous, you want people to be able to see and touch – and hopefully afford to buy – them. That’s where I’m coming from when I say Hackney Walk is introducing people to new brands. It’s not about buying a Gucci perfume and hoping one day you will be able to afford a Gucci handbag – I don’t think that’s how it works any more – but being able to buy a luxury branded product because its off price. Being introduced to that kind of quality is a very nice thing.
nike hackney walk
There have been some comparisons to Bicester Village – is that fair?
Bicester is great at what it does and its footfall figures are unrivalled, but it’s a very different offer. We’re appealing to Londoners, whereas their main appeal is to tourists. We’re appealing to people who might be coming into the area anyway, for Columbia Road flower market or London Fields Lido.
What’s next for Hackney Walk?
We’re speaking to two or three other brands about taking the last couple of arches left to let and one larger building. We’re also speaking to potential partners. Then we’re looking to move to phase two, which is developing the remaining railway arches and launching a fashion business centre with retail and office space. Zadiq and Voltaire are opening in mid-September, luxury cashmere brand Columbo are opening at the end of September and Folli Follie are also opening next month.