Image Description: Street view of Topshop’s Oxford Circus store
The world of online retail has claimed yet another victim on the British high street. Unable to keep up with fast fashion and the immediate satisfaction that low-cost brands such as Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing can provide, Topshop will not be reopening its doors after the current national lockdown.
ASOS’s £265 million deal to take over Topshop may not come as a sudden shock. The business was saved from bankruptcy in 2019, causing creditors to restructure the company, which in turn led to the slashing of jobs and store closures. This may have gone some way in squeezing any remaining profitability out of the high street. But the Arcadia Group — the conglomerate under which Topshop was previously owned — has suffered substantial losses since 2018, inevitably pointing to the day when not even the largest in-person retailers would be saved at the eleventh hour.
The fall of Topshop may signal the digital transition of shopping experiences. Nonetheless, the 57 years it has graced the high street have provided iconic British designs and landmark moments for the British fashion industry, from supporting young designers to opening stores across Europe and the US.
The iconic Kate Moss 2007 collection had customers waiting in queues for up to five hours at the Oxford Circus 90,000 square foot landmark.
Topshop’s journey began in 1964, when it opened as an independent in the Peter Robinson department store. Based in Sheffield, the brand was fast to establish its male counterpart Topman and take its place amongst the other big high street names. It has consistently appealed to the younger generation, targeting ages 13-24 and encouraging young designers. In particular, it sought talent from the Royal College of Art, for example Stirling Cooper, a high profile designer in the ‘60s and ‘70s who worked with Mick Jagger among other ventures. At its core, Topshop continued this legacy, often hiring younger staff in-stores (like 16 year old me!) and sponsoring events such as the 2005 London Fashion Week, inspiring students of fashion across the world.
Topshop served as the bridge between affordability and style, stretching a tight budget whilst also ensuring a high street treat. Its 90’s revival under brand director Jane Stephenson brought it back in the limelight, contributing to global fashion trends and styling the younger generation. Beyond this, it would peak as a global brand in the ‘90s and ‘00s; major celebrity endorsements, most notably Kate Moss’ collections in 2007 and Beyoncé’s Ivy Park venture with Sir Phillip Green in 2016 would attract millions of teens. The iconic Kate Moss 2007 collection had customers waiting in queues for up to five hours at the Oxford Circus 90,000 square foot landmark.
Topshop was, unfortunately, running out of steam. The younger generation they target has fast fashion alternatives that can provide more on-trend styles on the doorstep the following day.
From the 2010s, trouble loomed for the brand. Sir Phillip Green has been CEO of Topshop as part of his directing role of the Arcadia Group since 2002, yet over the last decade his name has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Famously, as the flagship Oxford Circus store was set to debut a feminist book collaboration in 2018, Green put a stop to it just hours before the event. Scarlett Curtis’ Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and other lies) was published in partnership with UN charity Girl Up, a venture seemingly fitting with the Topshop brand of celebrating women and freedom in fashion. The incident began a rift, only exacerbated by revelations of Green’s history of repeated sexual harassment, racist abuse and bullying. Board members resigned, Beyoncé stopped her Ivy Park collaboration with the CEO and loyal customers felt uncomfortable lining the pockets of such a figure.
Beyond its PR setbacks, Topshop was, unfortunately, running out of steam. The younger generation they target has fast fashion alternatives that can provide more on-trend styles on the doorstep the following day. Brands such as PrettyLittleThing, with their staggering online presence and endless product ranges to fulfil growing demand, show that Topshop simply could not compete on efficiency.
Looking ahead, it is hard to stay optimistic when 2500 jobs were lost this week at Topshop, Topman and Miss Selfridge stores as part of the ASOS takeover. However, a shift to the strategies of their competitors may allow the brand to last, despite this grave cornerstone in its journey.
Image Credit: Magnus D via Creative Commons