London Fashion Week returned last month after a pandemic-led hiatus, bringing confidence and international interest back to the capital. But despite the buzz surrounding the festival, hailed as a contributing factor in London’s recovery, physical high streets are showcasing a different consumerism tale in the ‘fashion capital of the world’.

Edwin Groenendaal

Edwin Groenendaal

Footfall has returned to high streets, with retail sales across the country rising by 1.9% in January – the biggest monthly increase since lockdown restrictions were lifted last spring. However, it was not the popular January fashion sales that led to this increase. In fact, physical clothing stores reported a 5% fall in sales across the month from the lack of sales incentives and rising inflation, marking a definite change in consumer behaviour. London also recorded the least amount of footfall and spend this year.

This surprising change of tides raises a defining question for the future of the high street and consumer demand in London and beyond.

While the future of fashion retail remains unknown, positive opportunities lie ahead for UK high streets to reinvent themselves, with streetscape revival a huge focus of the recently published Levelling Up White Paper.

Alongside government assistance to support high street businesses, booming fashion sales have also increased warehouse real estate nationwide to cater for the growth. UK warehouse investment totalled a record £6bn in the first half of 2021, more than double the £2.7bn recorded in the same period previously.

Independent produce stores are also making a surprising return to the high street, as consumers become more socially conscious about the provenance of their food. With around 18% of small retail businesses eyeing local community store openings, this could lead to 17,000 more new stores in local high streets across the UK.

The demise of big high street fashion retailers such as Topshop has increased opportunities for rising online brands such as Amazon Fresh to have a small physical presence on the high street on a small scale – a boon for high street landlords.

Altogether, there are more opportunities to regenerate the quintessential essence of the high street. So, perhaps, the decline in fashion retail occupancy is the natural way to regenerate high streets to make them fit for purpose.

Edwin Groenendaal is chief executive of HARNESS Data Intelligence.