The year was 2002, I was 17 years old and I wrote a thesis on the subject “Shopping in the 21st Century”. I’d forgotten all about it, until at a Farfetch.com event recently, where we were shown a video (see below) called “The State of Independents”, in which some of the independent retailers who sell through the site discuss the changes in shopping and how it has affected them. Suddenly it all came back to me, I rushed home and found my thesis in a dusty old box. Having re-read it a decade later (and giggled my way through), I think it’s definitely worthy of a little revisit.
Aged 17, I wasn’t even thinking about working in fashion, which is why it’s almost ironic for me to read it again. Why was I so fascinated by it? I’m not sure, but clearly it mattered enough for me to explore it in depth for over 6 months. It all started with a book my parents had given me - “Project on the City 2, The Harvard Guide to Shopping”, a colossal 3kg, 800 page manifest by my favourite architect Rem Koolhaas, exploring urban shopping from theoretical and practical perspectives, which triggered my fascination with the idea of shopping as a concept. In my thesis, I explored 4 different subjects: the future of the shopping mall, concept stores, personal shopping and last, the future of Internet shopping.
In 2002 , we were still in the very early stages of e-commerce – of the internet in general. In Belgium, we still had slow dial up internet connections. My thesis was saved on a floppy disk. Twitter and Facebook had yet to be invented. The idea of entering your credit card details into a computer scared the hell out of most people. Books, CD’s and video’s (VHS, probably) were the most popular items sold online at the time and fashion wasn’t really a player on the internet yet. I even quote a number of experts on the subject, who all agree that, whilst being a solution for some parts of life, online retailing “will never fully replace the real thing”, as the social aspect of shopping is considered one of its main draws and the internet would take that element away.
Well, we’re 10 years later and of course we now know that to be very untrue, but then no one could have predicted just how quick and how much the world would change. Now with the arrival of social media like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, online shopping is also no longer a lonely thing to do – we share our purchases with friends online and on the go, we are able to ask for their advice and can even show off our outfits to complete strangers. Those fears which stopped people from buying their clothes on the web 10 years ago are simply no longer there. Online shopping has become normal, standard, second nature and I simply couldn’t imagine a world without. The web is overloaded with product and online stores, the prices are often cheaper and retailing has never been so competitive. And as amazing as that evolution has been, the internet has also become a killer to independent boutiques all around the world, who struggle to survive as a local provider in a global market.
Enter Farfetch. Their idea is simple: to provide a wonderfully curated selection of independent boutiques from all over the world with the opportunity of a huge online presence, which they individually would not be able to afford or put in place. The small boutique has been under threat by the global allures of online retail and an increasingly monotonous high street, and so Farfetch can give them an effortless new virtual platform, which in turn allows those boutiques to stay both local and independent. They don’t take anything away from their individual concepts and allow – encourage even – them to be as quirky, avant-garde and unique as possible. I’ve been a loyal supporter of Farfetch for a long time, and am even more convinced today of how powerful and important the site is becoming and love everything they stand for.
The video below, which started this whole nostalgic moment for me, features some of the boutique owners who work with Farfetch and explains how the change in the industry has affected them. I really hope you watch it, as it’s a real eye opener in many ways – especially the struggles the independents have to deal with these days. It reminded me just how far we’ve come in the past few decades: the world – and retail – has changed forever and now online and real life are blending together more and more every day, which brings me back to the quote I used at the start of my thesis (and which even a decade later couldn’t be more true today): “Not only is shopping melting into everything, but everything is melting into shopping.”
My final thoughts: if you love your independent boutiques and want them to be around in another decade, then buy from them. If you can’t buy local, consider buying from sites like Farfetch, who support the independent cause. These boutiques are often the ones who’ll support young and new designers, they’re usually the ones who take the biggest risks. Without them, fashion just wouldn’t be the same. Without them, the internet would become just like the boring high streets. Without them, fashion would definitely be a little less exciting…
Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts!