Consumerism has changed drastically over the course of the pandemic. After the initial frenzied bulk-buying when lockdown became a possibility, a slower pace of life begun to dominate. Many big-name brands were shunned and people became increasingly focused on ethical and local fashion. However, the reopening of non-essential stores last Monday saw shoppers flocking in their thousands to long-time fast-fashion giant Primark.
While consumption saw an overall fall during lockdown with people realising that they simply don’t need so much stuff, it was hoped that the changing consumer patterns would also shape the fashion industry in the long run with high street fast-fashion chains being replaced by ethical alternatives including Depop and charity shops. However, this deceleration of capitalism appears to be ultimately short-lived.
Though this is disappointing, we shouldn’t be surprised, as materialism shows time and time again that it will always prevail. Typically Primark is bustling during the summer months as its products are in essence exactly what many consumers want for their summer holidays. Primark’s collections are cheap, and though they are not always durable, this doesn’t matter too much for a week at the beach.
Primark’s products are seen by many as disposable, but this is reflected in the price, and therefore shoppers acknowledge when they buy them that these cut-price flipflops, bikinis and sarongs may last for just a few weeks in the sun and sea. Indeed this is the nature of the beast; the seasonal character of the industry means that trends only have a short lifecycle, and pieces that are all the rage this summer may not be fashionable the next. Indeed, that brings Primark’s current success all the more into question: with the flight restrictions caused by the pandemic preventing overseas holidays, what are people actually going to buy at Primark?
Since lockdown restrictions have been eased, people are able to venture further afield, and that is indeed what many are choosing to do. This had led to thousands flocking to beaches throughout the country, but it seems surprising that many would choose to buy new attire for this when people are too busy celebrating their own new-found freedom to notice what their fellow sunbathers are wearing. Similarly, those without access to cars have instead been rushing to public parks for socially distanced picnics, but ultimately it is the freedom of the outdoors and the opportunity to reunite with friends that is important here. Fashion is the last thing on everyone’s minds.
So if it’s not to impress others then why are people rushing to buy clothes so soon? Perhaps it is the experience of shopping that is drawing people in. Though high street shopping has been forced to change drastically since we last saw it in March, with social distancing measures in place and opportunities to try on clothes diminished, in-store retail is still incomparable to trawling through the websites of Boohoo and Misguided.
Often shopping is a social activity, but current restrictions make it difficult to share this experience with friends and family, so it must be more than this that is drawing people back to Primark. One thing that can’t be replicated in online shopping is the discovery of hidden gems; often these are nestling on the bottom of a tucked-away webpage, but in a physical store they are much harder to miss – even more so considering that people often shop online with a specific purpose, meaning that general browsing is limited.
Similarly, you often discover that clothes look very different in-person to online, and sometimes the colours, the intricate details or the type of fabric can only be appreciated by the naked eye. Aside from the attraction of high street stores in general, there is also the fact that Primark actually has no online store. For people on tighter budgets, or those just curious to see the chain’s latest range, there is simply no alternative to visiting a physical store.
shopping again can be seen as very liberating and symbolic of their new freedom
Furthermore, the lockdown has been an incredibly difficult period for many people, and simply the opportunity to go shopping again can be seen as very liberating and symbolic of their new freedom after so many months spent inside. Related to this liberation is the fact that a new outfit itself can be very freeing. After so long being cooped up inside people finally have the opportunity to invest in their looks again with a new outfit making you feel fresh, confident, and ultimately just “normal” again, which is what many people need right now.
Ultimately this sudden switch from ethical consumption is disappointing however not surprising, but this trend may not be here to stay. After all, this post-lockdown euphoria may be short-lived, and the novelty may soon wear off, especially once wardrobes are full again. Furthermore, charity shops are one of the retail sectors not to have reopened; it is hoped that, once people can finally donate the remnants of their lockdown declutters, the secondhand sector will be rejuvenated, with charity shops bursting with stock.
Yes, consumers flocking to Primark is concerning, but hopefully, like fashion trends, these patterns will soon change too.
All images from Instagram
Last modified: 24th June 2020