Curious Trends

16/10/2010

Upmarket markets


London’s edgy East End first coined the term when it opened its Sunday Upmarket at the Truman Brewery, in 2004. The revival of market style trading has gone hand in hand with the growing interest in unique, hand crafted produce. Now luxury brands and major high street names are trying to muscle in to this area. What's more, mainstream etailer Asos has recently announced plans for a new Marketplace website. The basic idea, enabling independent retailers and individuals to sell current stock, second-hand unwanted clothes and their own designs, sounds very much like an Ebay or Etsy shop, but could this be a signal that major retailers are about to start cashing in on 'wholesale' marketplace concept online as well as offline. And will this eventually make markets less posh once again?


Portobello is already one of the most upmarket markets in London. Located where it is within a prime residential area, it's ideally placed for large retailers looking to muscle in. All Saints has already opened a store, where once 150 market traders were housed, sparking concern that Portobello Road will be turned into the new Oxford Street..

The price of property, combined the new “sloconomy” environment means even luxury retailers are finding rents and overheads prohibitive, so some are setting up pop up shops instead. What’s more, we’re not talking Dover Street Market - Gucci chose Covent Garden, but some upscale retailers are now looking in the cheapest and most unlikely of locations. Hermes will soon be popping up in Shoreditch.

Even Church Street Market is a little too close to St John’s Wood to be the right sort of market - and Bermondsey’s far too gentrified these days. In London, we’re talking places like Brixton, Broadway (Hackney) and Fulham’s hitherto uncool North End Road (watch this space).



In an article in the Evening Standard in August 2009, Jenny Wilhide said “the contemporary street trader is more likely to be a university graduate than a cockney barrow boy – and instead of selling plastic dustpans and packs of discount dusters will offer lifestyle products such as gourmet foods, eco-conscious fashions or sex toys made from organic wood”.

The market stall is the perfect option for starting a new career in the recession, as start up costs are so low. And, as the upmarket market traders’ main place of business is often online, they can experiment by setting up a market stall purely to get brief access to the public, for valuable feedback on their products.

What’s more, far from selling things at discount, many are selling top of the range luxuries at the going rate in locations like Pimlico Green, or the Duke of York’s Barracks. And farmers’ markets’ success at selling organic local produce has even encouraged some major food retailers, like Wholefoods in the US, to partner with market-style vendors.

Meanwhile, elegant pop-up markets are appearing as part of Summer music events and specialist art,design and literary festivals – even at the opera. But these are also attractive to mainstream retailers, wishing to have a presence at 'prestigious' events. Vintage at Goodwood retail outlets, for instance, included the likes of Waitrose, The Body Shop, John Lewis and Primark.


The growing interest in crafts, collecting and bargain hunting, combined with cheap retail space in traditional market locations does not bode well for independent retailers, artisans and craftspeople. How long will it be before luxury retailers and big brand high street names start to take over formerly niche market areas? And how long before they swallow up the online marketplace of smaller specialist websites too?

Perhaps what we need is a totally new retail concept that enables everyone to be upmarket and survive - though that seems pretty unlikely... any ideas?
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