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“I’ve always loved the high street, but it’s time for change”

Fashion editor Harriet Davey tells Stylist why, after years of loving the high street, she wants more. 

When I first heard about the Arcadia brands – including Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins – closing, I felt sad and disappointed, but I wasn’t shocked. I’ve always loved the high street – I’ve grown up with it, it’s what I’ve been able to afford and it has resonated with me throughout my years as a pre-teen, fully fledged teenager and now as an adult (even though I still feel like a teen most days). 

One of my earliest memories of shopping is heading to Tammy Girl – here I would plead with my mum to buy me a variety of ‘babe’ crop tops and baggy jeans that hung off the hips I was yet to have. Another memory is buying my first Topshop floral mini dress and believing I had reached peak adulthood. Little did I know this was in fact having to buy your own kettle and toaster. Growing up with a mum who has always loved clothes meant that shopping was, and is, a hobby I’ve enjoyed for many years. 

I loved the whole shopping experience so much that I wanted to work in retail. I had a part time job at New Look throughout college and uni and I still shop the high street, although I find it different now. I’m not just talking about the endless inevitable closures that’ll see shop fronts empty, and people frantically trying to get their hands on the closing down sale bargains, as seen at Debenhams recently. The way we shop in general is different. 

With online fast fashion brands growing at a rapid rate, the British high street is unfortunately getting left behind. The new consumer wants everything instantly. With this being said, there’s also a new (welcomed) wave of people who want to slow down and invest in more sustainable options. 

Fashion brands are having to adapt to so many changes, now more than ever, and it’s the ones who aren’t that are going to fail in today’s climate. While high street brands are struggling to keep up with the speed and price the super fast fashion brands have, they’re also not achieving the level expected when it comes to sustainability, either. 

Designer brands including Stella McCartney and Mother of Pearl are leading the way for designers, independent sites such as Lårs Labels and Otiumberg are making smaller brands more appealing, and the emerging fashion rental sites are a whole new way to wear clothes entirely. Meanwhile, bricks and mortar stores are still offering the same as they have for years. Among the international brands, H&M has been leading the high street with its ‘Conscious’ collection and Mango has the ‘Committed’ edits, but we need more from every brand. Companies need to be transparent and prove they’re making an effort to do all they can to help the planet, and in turn think outside of the box with new ways to please the shoppers. 

I was so happy to see high street brands supporting each other on Instagram. After the week of closure announcements, River Island starting #StandingByTheHighStreet on social and so many brands got involved and supported their ‘competitors’. I agree, we all need to stand by the high street but as someone who has shopped it for years, I’m also looking for more. I want to know where my clothes have come from, I want to know who made them and if they received a fair wage, I want to know what I’m buying will last and I want to get that fuzzy feeling I now get from shopping smaller brands or saving for a designer item I know I’ll look after forever. I aim to buy sell, buy better and shop smarter so this means I, along with many other consumers, care more about who I’m buying from and the practices they use. The high street needs to get back in touch with its loyal fans (me), make new ones and also adapt to the world of social at the speed of the fast fashion retailers to keep up in a way that doesn’t cause as much damage as creating more and more clothes.

While Topshop has 2,262 followers on TikTok, PrettyLittleThing has 1.3million. It’s not to say followers are everything, but engaging with the right audience can mean all the difference. This isn’t all they can be doing either. High street brands have been quizzed for years as to why sizes stop at a UK 16/18. It’s crazy that in 2020 this is still a thing when the ‘average’ woman is a size 16. How can you cut out a majority of the market and expect women to want to shop at places that aren’t inclusive? The ‘plus size’ edits should become part of the ‘mainline’ collections in order to make every woman feel represented. Who wants to have to go to an entirely different section in order to shop the same as everyone else?

A lot of high street brands have the advantage that they can give shoppers the online and real life in-store experience, this is something they’ll have over solely online brands if they start making some changes now. It’s a difficult year for everyone, including retail so this hasn’t helped but I hope to see more positive steps in the right direction from the brand I’ve known, loved and worn for so many years. 

I stand by the fact I still love the high street and I want to see changes in order to keep stores open. The ‘experience’ you get from shopping in a real life shore with friends and family can not be replaced by the sound of delivery driver at the door – although… this is pretty good, too. 

Opening image: Getty

All other images courtesy of brands

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