There’s always been something so quintessential and glorious about tottering around Seven Dials of an afternoon. Where wandering around a busy shopping centre quickly became taboo when shops reopened back in July, specialist stores with a loyal customer base and good online presence thrived. Customers, much like myself, wanted to shop closer to home: be it for the familiarity, or the safety of a smaller space.
Prior to this, with lockdown had come a natural shift in our shopping habits: buying less, but better, and having a more considered, discerning approach took precedence. Rather than hit your go-to fast fashion website to buy a new outfit for the following day, empty summer diaries and the lack of urgency meant we had time to sit back and reconsider exactly where, and what, we were spending our money on. It meant that for the most part, frivolous buys were phased out.
As Zooms took over our lives and calendars, so too did bold jewellery which made for the perfect video call-friendly accessory, and searches for statement earrings were up 40% by the first week in April. While its infamous ear-piercing counter (I’m a loyal customer having had four done there) was sorely missed, Astrid & Miyu’s delicate gold jewellery proved immensely popular, while British-made Tatty Devine’s bright acrylic offering nicely ticked that Zoom box. It seemed that doing just one thing, and doing it really well, was paying off, and smaller labels were thriving.
Similarly, while our beloved bags and ‘saving for best’ shoes were shelved with nowhere to go, lingerie and loungewear (which Coco de Mer and Urban Outfitters respectively excel in) became a lockdown staple. Alongside homeware (more time indoors meant ‘nesting’ was rife), they were the categories the nation couldn’t get enough of. It isn’t lost on me that anything I bought during the first month in lockdown was as much a dopamine hit at a time when a cheering treat was welcomed, as it was a useful forever buy: a dusky rose sweatshirt, an ombre vase and gold huggies from Dinny Hall that garnered compliments on video calls were some notable buys.
There’s no denying the current climate has made it tricky for retailers to survive and has meant devastating news for others: our discerning approach means we’re less willing to part with cash unless it’s something necessary or special. This branches out towards labels as well as items: high street behemoths were shunned in favour of smaller, niche labels and independent brands that were in need of support in the unprecedented times, and it’s this new shopping mentality that is set to stick around. Interest in the story behind a brand – such as Gudren Sjoden’s chic Swedish roots and sustainable heart – have been just as important to us as the item itself.
It’s these interesting stories that new ‘lockdown’ businesses have in abundance. Start-ups that were born in the past six months were founded by optimistic, savvy entrepreneurs who took the time to think about innovative ways to serve customers’ needs in these tricky times. The Start-Up With Seven Dials initiative grants backing to well-deserving UK businesses at a time when we all need them most, and will give them a physical space nestled among its other brilliant labels, and expert retail assistance. It’s their moment to shine: with Brits being urged to stay at home, this winter is set to be particularly difficult for the retail sector, but small businesses have the ability and flexibility to adapt and get the economy going again.
While some founders will no doubt have turned their hand to a passion or new hobby following a career about-turn, having something special to show that was born out of a global pandemic is quite the impressive story to tell, and it’s one us shoppers can’t wait to hear.