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Shopping gets smart on Bird Street

Drapers visits Bird Street, a new shopping area in London’s West End that blends technology with sustainability.

harry dobbs design architects and urban designers

harry dobbs design architects and urban designers

London’s West End is not the first place you would expect to find an oasis of clean air and independent retail, but a project from the New West End Company and pop-up provider Appear Here intends to change that. Tucked just off Oxford Street and close to the shopping draw of Selfridges, the previously unloved Bird Street has been turned into the world’s first “smart street”. Combining technology, a focus on sustainability and emerging new brands, the pilot project hopes to bring something new to the capital’s most famous shopping district.

“This is part of our bigger vision for the area,” explains Steve Medway, trading environment managing director at the New West End Company. “We represent all 600 businesses across Oxford Street and Regent Street and part of what we’re looking at is how we can really improve the way retail operates in the area. We’re looking at these underutilised side streets – Bird Street was just being used for deliveries before.”

From now until the end of the year, retailers can open pop-up stores in Bird Street’s brightly coloured pods, which were designed by architect Harry Dobbs Design and resemble origami birds in homage to the street’s name. The pods measure from 145 sq ft to 160 sq ft and are interlinked, so they can be used separately or combined and opened up for bigger projects.

pods and pavegen

pods and pavegen

Pavegen and pods

Pavegen technology generates electricity from footfall to power the sound of recorded birdsong during the day and the string of fairy lights hung across the street at night.

“In 50 years’ time, Oxford Street could be paved with Pavegen tiles and the technology could be powering the necessities of the area. Stores here get thousands of visitors every day,” Medway adds.

Benches are kitted out with AirLab filters, which remove pollutants before pumping clean air back out, and a “purifying” AirLite paint also filters gasses and airborne bacteria. These technologies could eventually find a home on Oxford Street itself. The New West End Company is exploring whether the filters could later be installed at the street’s bus stops, giving shoppers cleaner air as they travel to and from the area. Footfall cameras perched on street lamps also monitor how many people visit Bird Street.

The focus on technology and sustainability has been echoed through Bird Street’s launch brands. It opened this week (of 30 June) with ethical fashion retailer Ethical Stories Ethical Me, leather accessories brand Nina Ullrich, homeware brand Cuemars and men’s lifestyle shop The Dandy Lab. Customers will be able to walk out of The Dandy Lab’s store without going to a physical checkout, paying instead through an app or through selfie mirrors, where they can take a picture with a product to pay.

Bird Street smart bench

Bird Street smart bench

AirLab bench

“There are pop-up spaces all over London, but what really attracted to us to Bird Street is that aligns with us as a brand,” explains Shivani Mawji, co-founder of Ethical Stories Ethical Me, which focuses on eco-friendly and cruelty-free products.

“Being just off Oxford Street is a huge thrill, but we’re just as interested in the sustainable message and what New West End Company is trying to achieve.”

Pricing is kept competitive [the kiosks are £108 a day] to encourage entrepreneurs who would never normally be able to open on Oxford Street, Medway adds. 

“We want to create diversity for that ’lost’ shopper who wants to come back to the West End to find something unique.”

Planning permission has been granted until December. A review will be held in August to assess the street’s performance and, if all goes well, the project could be extended to other streets in the area.

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