Don’t exit through the gift shop
An already super-ailing high street killed off by lockdown, the future of retail lies not in the standardised hierarchy of strict planning regulations, masterplans that begin with buildings, and the same monolithic anchor-faces of yesteryear. Rather, it lies in the activist or ‘blurred brand’ approaches of the Patagonias, Market Halls or Time Out Markets of this world. A genuine blur of profit, social responsibility, and membership, the real value for these brands is not financial. It’s the experience of a different way of living.
There is nothing, so goes the saying, new under the sun. While mainstream retail planning has continued to largely put its eggs in the basket of the singular, impersonal, and ultimately sterile ideology of financial transaction, dressing it up in the so-called, highly-calibrated and incentive-driven ‘customer journey’, it has also made a fringe space for the blurred brand. As well as the aforementioned, great blurrers include the likes of DSM, Urban Outfitters, V&A, ICA, Selfridges, Rough Trade East, NikeLab, Colette Paris, and Wholefoods. Certainly, they are the models going forward, their success measured as much in education as they are sales. Equally, I suggest looking into the archives of the punk DIY activism of brands born in times of recession, in times where empty units and an us-and-us approach helped define brands that actively railed against driving people through the proverbial gift shop. You’ll have your favourites, but the early nineties Acid House-inspired Sign of the Times is, for me, exactly what we are going to be looking for once the crisis is over.
In which case, the silver lining in an otherwise bleak retail outlook is – has to be – the blurred brand takeover, one that either eschews or renegotiates the standard landlord-tenant template, that prefers user-informed beta-programmes as model for evolution, and which would prefer to go bust than be reduced to little more a bank balance. Patagoniacs unite.
Words by Adam Scott and Dave Waddell
Image credit: Patagonia Worn Wear Program.