Vote with Your Wallet

The trendy-come-latelies of fashion retailing are setting a cracking pace for longtime local competition

Shoppers on the opening day of Topshop. Picture / Jason Oxenham.

The arrival of Topshop in Auckland less than two months ago was big fashion news, but spare a thought for local retailers already battling against the click bait of online trading. For all those who have welcomed the opening of the mega store and its crowd-pulling power to dreary mid-town Queen St, others will likely wither and die.

In some cases, c’est la vie. For stores in the business of knocking off designer looks and recycling trends, being beaten to market is the gamble you take. But casualties caught in the stampede are likely to include good, honest toilers crushed by massively nimble competition that can undercut them on price.

In the hype about having Topshop come to town few are debating the flow-on effect beyond being able to grab the latest London look.

My teenager and her friends made early sorties into the slick-looking store. Between the clothes and the cheap makeup, few came home empty handed. Their old fall-backs of Glassons and Cotton On at the local mall — and Country Road when mothers are paying — struggled to appeal as much as taking selfies beside giant in-store posters of Cara Delevingne.

The jeans were “the best”, I was told just last weekend, but after struggling to find a Cara-worthy fit in her size and nearly suffocating in the stinking hot changing rooms, the teenager declared she would “never” wear high waists or flares and wanted to shop on more familiar territory.

Perhaps she is more her mother’s daughter than I realised. On trips to Sydney I often leave the likes of Zara empty handed. Those queues to try on stuff are such a turn-off.

I’m also a believer in delayed gratification, which means rather than a quick flick either in-store or online, I much prefer to browse the racks and sleep on it.

Fast fashion being what it is, here today so often forgotten by tomorrow. That said, I do have a few choice chain store buys, including several from Topshop. But trying to teach a teenager to take a raincheck and remembering it yourself is uphill work in a consumer society.

We are bombarded by blandishments to buy. Some appeal to us on price or convenience, others on aspiration, be it for designer labels or exclusivity in the burgeoning of boutique brands.

Much of this is about clever marketing, rather than consumer choice; something every shopper should have in the back of their mind.

Without getting all rigid rule-wise — there’s no fun in fashion self-flagellation — mindful shopping does not go hand in hand with compulsive buying. I get the most style satisfaction from a wardrobe of old favourites supplemented by a few judicious new purchases that are likely to last.

So, back to Topshop. Yes, it is opening up new options for consumers who shop in central Auckland, but those in the outer suburbs and regional areas may end up with less to choose from locally as the squeeze goes on those of its competitors maintaining nationwide networks. When Topshop expands to Wellington and Christchurch as planned, then that squeeze will be more pronounced.

This isn’t an “us” and “them” argument. Most of our garments are made offshore these days, so ethical questions about outsourcing manufacturing and overseas employment standards apply across the board.

A number of New Zealand labels retain local design teams, but the reality is that many act more as buyers, adapters and orderers, than truly original designers. The canny ones who spot a market gap and those genuine designers with a niche (who make here or abroad), will survive, but may get a nudge on price. Support them if you would like to see them stay around.

Credit also to Topshop, which has thrived by expanding beyond the purely fast-fashion genre to become a fashion as well as a retail player. In so doing, through its Unique label shown at London Fashion Week, talented in-house design team and its savvy collaborations and strict supply-change management, it has taken the brand beyond competing solely on turnaround time and price.

That is why its impact locally will be particularly far reaching.

Australia recently debated losing its car manufacturing capacity, whereas in New Zealand, centres like Thames paid the price and moved on decades ago. Our roads now boast a greater variety of vehicles, many at cheaper prices than across the Tasman. Good, bad or indifferent, it depends on your economic outlook and political persuasion.

Like it or not, there’s a remorseless inevitability that in this shrinking world the high streets of New Zealand’s bigger cities will be colonised by retail giants.

In smaller centres — and Auckland’s off-the-main-drag urban precincts — the challenge to our retailers remains continued reinvention for local relevance.

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New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald

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