Hello and first of all thank you to everyone who took the time to send a birthday wish on Tuesday. I was showered with messages from every corner of the internet and it was lovely to know that so many people had me in their thoughts, in fact I couldn’t wish for anything more. I’ll tell you more about what we did next week when we have a catch-up but in the meantime I want us to start thinking about the future of retail after Covid-19 so I’m hoping you might be in the mood to fire up your brain. If not, it ends with a try-on so just skip to the clothes.
The future of high street retail after Covid-19
Over a glass of fizz on my birthday, I read an interesting piece in The Guardian where Mary Portas was asked for her thoughts on how high street retail can recover after lockdown. She believes that we’ll see a fundamental change and that assuming they are in a position to choose, people will care far more about a retailer’s values. She had already seen a pre-Covid-19 shift towards a more thoughtful pattern of consumption based on a concern for the environment and now she believes it will matter even more. The bigger possibility is that we’ll see a new way of operating across the entire economy.
Now I confess I always grit my teeth a bit when I see it’s Mary because in my Selfridges’ days she was our bête noir. At the beginning of my time there she resided in her eyrie at Harvey Nichols across the park from us. Then, as now, she chased column inches and just one published interview with her was enough to send our boss into a state of wrath that meant we suffered for the rest of the week.
And this next little story will make far more sense to you when you’ve watched her video but hold it in your mind as you do. A few years later in 1997 I returned to Selfridges after my first maternity leave to find Mary busy pitching to the directors for my job. She wanted her new agency Yellow Door to take over the magazines that I was in charge of producing in house and with a single swipe, her proposals planned to annihilate my whole department. It wasn’t the gentle return that I’d imagined and in my first few days back I had to gird my oestrogen raddled body for a testosterone fuelled fight. I won, but it was a furious entry back into the workplace.
So it was with some irony that I watched her TEDx Talk last year, talking about how she feels the world of business needs change and be more kind. I nodded along with her description of her time in retail because it’s the period when we were up against each other… and yes, I did smile wryly when she said she left kindness at home as she went to work in the 90s! Watch this and then we’ll go on.
It’s a good TEDx Talk because it opens a conversation although personally I think there’s a risk in the choice of the word ‘kindness’ which, after all, is a bit like ‘nice.’ As soon as she says it I instantly envisage a lot of the retail leaders I know running for the door, miming fingers down throats as they go – and that’s both men and women. However I do think that the current ‘kindness in action’ that we’re seeing from retailers such as discounts and gifts for the NHS means a lot to their customers – and it’s true that the brands who have behaved particularly well through this time will stay in our minds.
Looking ahead to retail after Covid-19, the article suggests that there will be a consumer divide:
‘The recession that followed the  banking crisis led to the rise of Lidl and Aldi, while Poundland and Primark also prospered. She says that, this time around, that kind of retailer will be important again. “There’s going to be a real polarisation from those who have and those who have not,” she says. “You’re going to see a real deep discounting happening at one end, where people are having to buy from those institutions. At the other end, there is going to be a growth in people buying and wanting brands that reflect their values. For those who can afford to shop around, the companies that have proved heroes could find that the goodwill towards their brand lasts.’
Which side of the line we’ll all land on is still unknown for many of us. The possible scale of redundancies when furlough ends is, for now, unforeseeable even for those who have always felt secure. And of course a lot of people have got used to a new way of working that is less pressured and they may resist going back to their old lives, having learned to live with less in lockdown and deciding that the pay off is worth it.
In the hopeful assumption that the economy bounces back and the nation’s disposable income returns quickly, the question is: will Covid-19 be the catalyst for the seismic shift in retail that people were clamouring for before it happened? Just before coronavirus hit, consumers across most demographics were becoming increasingly ‘woke’ and demanding a change to the profit-focused fast fashion industry. Lip service was no longer enough and retailers were being forced to take corporate social responsibility seriously at a board and shareholder level.
Retail after Covid-19 could go one of two ways and I’m raising this now in the hope that we can lend weight to it moving in the right direction. In the aftermath of all this turmoil, retailers could take the opportunity to create a new model. However without pressure from their customers they may just pursue a return to growth at any cost. There has to be a reckoning too. Some of the UK’s high street stalwarts have done wonderful things but others have behaved really badly to their suppliers, cancelling orders that were produced and ready to dispatch and refusing to pay for them. The supply chains that support them in manufacturing countries such as Bangladesh are suffering terribly and if there isn’t recompense, naming and shaming will have to be done.
As always, the power that we have lies in open debate but also in our purses. Who we choose to spend with will matter more than ever. Going back to The Guardian article, I just want to add one more thought referencing a piece in The Economist by Mark Carney, former Governor of The Bank of England where he said:
“Fundamentally, the traditional drivers of value have been shaken, new ones will gain prominence and there’s a possibility that the gulf between what markets value and what people value will close.” With this in mind, Portas says: “Every £1 is a vote, a vote for how we want to live.”
And that’s a great way of looking at it… every £1 is a vote – a vote for how we want to live. I’ve been trying to think of a brand that we could hold up as a model for the future of retail and to me it has to be Baukjen. For the sake of disclosure I should add that although they’ve supported this blog during the SS20 season and sent me some clothes to show you, this is not a sponsored post. I’ve chosen them because they prove that retail can be approached with thought and care.
Baukjen – exemplar for the future of retail after Covid-19?
So let’s just have a quick look at what Baukjen do so well and of course we have to bear in mind that they’re not a huge brand but I see no reason why their approach to people and the environment shouldn’t be scalable. I’m not a big fan of mission statements, they flip me right back into the word salads of 20th century marketing but the intent behind theirs is a good one:
To put our customers and people at the heart of everything we do; through the timeless, carefully crafted designs that empower women to be their best selves every day, and our determination to drive lasting positive change in a damaging industry – through sustainable practices, recycling of garments and fabrics and a commitment to a more ethical supply chain.
And without turning this into a marketing essay let’s quickly how they’re walking the talk before I show you some clothes:
Customers and people at the heart of everything – everything, including customer service and distribution, is handled in house so they are constantly in touch with their own consumer. As far as staff are concerned, they’re 79% female run and have a family friendly flexible working policy. They give work and internship opportunities to locals and they have a completely transparent and ethical supply chain.
Timeless, carefully crafted designs: I think it’s the quality of their products that shines through here, they fit beautifully and last for years. When I visit, I’m always fascinated by the small design team working away at their drawing boards alongside a dressmaker who runs up samples as they go. This means that they can adjust fabric and fit from the earliest stages before any kind of mainstream production begins.
Positive change in a damaging industry: they have pending certified B status, they make a point of sourcing their fabrics near to their factories of which 90% are in Europe. They buy on a small scale and produce only what they need. As far as packaging is concerned, it is 100% plastic free, made from recycled and recyclable materials which are also biodegradable.
You can read much more about their way of working here, in the meantime, let me show you some of their latest pieces.
*Don’t forget that Midlifechic readers have an ongoing 20% discount on full priced items at Baukjen with code MIDLIFECHIC20*
Outfit 1 – a shirtdress
You already know how much I love a shirtdress and Baukjen have some really good ones this season. I picked this one out for three reasons. Firstly I loved the colour with its Out Of Africa vibe. Secondly I liked the fluidity of the linen/viscose blend that isn’t as stiff as pure linen but still breathable. And finally I was drawn by the detail at the waist and the fact that it has the style of a shirtdress with the structure of a waistband.
Most importantly quite a few of you have been in touch to say you struggle with shirtdresses gaping because you have a bigger bust. This style should solve that problem because it has a separate bodice making it more generous at the top. It does mean that you have to put it on over your head, it’s elasticated at the back but there isn’t enough stretch at the waist for you to step into it. You can’t quite tell from this picture but it has a dipped hem too – particularly good if you want to conceal any veins at the back of your midlife knees.
Outfit 2 – shacket and a charity tee
Olive green is a new shade for me this season but one I’m increasingly drawn to, perhaps because I’m spending so much time walking through the woods with Teddy. I’ve been looking for a jacket to throw on that’s more casual than a blazer but still chic, I want it to work as hard as my navy French workers’ jacket from IdLF.
The t-shirt is one of a number of charity designs that Baukjen launched pre-pandemic to support The Diana Award and its anti-bullying campaign. 50% of proceeds go towards the charity, far more than the usual 20% that retailers give. It’s Baukjen’s usual heavy cotton quality, cut in a boyfriend style.
Outfit 3 – cardigan and jeans
We talked about the chunky knit cardigan with jeans look a few times before lockdown and it’s one of the on-trend styles that’s easy to wear now. Of course you can throw a chunky cardigan over a dress too and a lot of you will be pleased to see that this one’s made from ethically sourced cotton. Navy completes my collection alongside the camel and grey ones that I’ve already featured. You’ve seen these jeans before – a few of you were worried about them surviving life with Teddy… all I can say is that they wash well!
As always, the clothes I’ve tried are all fantastic quality and fit beautifully. Hoping that I may have Baukjen’s ear when they see this post, I just want to say as I always do that I wish they wouldn’t make so many of their designs in a black only option. Things like this t-shirt which I’d snap up if they made it in navy blue.
And while we’re on the subject of colour I wish they’d expand their palette to include more shades that suit warmer skintones – I find they have a much wider range of options for people with cooler colouring. Like most retailers they’re having a few problems with deliveries so some styles are on back order including this stunning blouse which arrives in early June. I’m not often drawn to broderie anglaise, I find it a bit girly but there’s something about the simple utilitarian cut of this blouse that completely overrides that.
If you’re looking for stylish facemasks, they’re restocking this week so you can order them here. They’re selling them at cost price and will send you a free set for a friend for every one you order.
And there are now premium designs available individually if you want to choose a specific pattern.
So it just goes to show that clothes can be produced with thought, care and concern for both the supply chain and the environment. I’d love to see it as a new way of operating across retail after Covid-19. This is the kind of retail behaviour that we should be demanding going forward. And if we want it to change, we have to hold that thought – that every £1 we spend is a vote for the retailer we spend it with. We need to shop selectively and be willing to pay a little more to support the extra costs that a fair way of trading carries. I’ll leave you with that to think about – have a lovely Bank Holiday weekend and I’ll see you next week.
PS Don’t forget that Baukjen continue to offer 20% off all full priced styles to all Midlifechic readers using code: MIDLIFECHIC20.
Disclosure: ‘The future of retail after Covid-19’ is not a sponsored post however Baukjen have been supporters of this blog this season. Thank you for shopping with the brands who have helped to keep Midlifechic going through this difficult time.
There are some big sales on this weekend:
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