Today is an exciting day, my friends. As of 10am this morning, the doors of Birmingham’s new Disney Land, I mean, Primark shop, were opened to the public.
But it’s no ordinary shop. In fact, it’s the world’s biggest Primark, covering 5 whole floors that house, not only rails of cheap clothes, but a Disney themed cafe, its own “Harry Potter world”, an in-store barber, a beauty salon and a t-shirt printing lab.
Because, why not?
It’s not hard to understand why everybody is so excited about it. Just based on the pictures I saw on Instagram stories from the press event yesterday, it does look pretty breathtaking. It’s even been labelled as a completely “new type of shopping experience”.
However, I can’t help but ask what this says about us as consumers, Primark as a company, and the fast fashion system more widely in 2019? Personally, I think the opening of this new shop speaks volumes.
For years, fast fashion retailers haven’t in fact been selling clothes, but the lifestyle that those clothes afford.
Adverts for clothing brands, just like, well, all other brands, show pictures of care-free, ridiculously stylish people enjoy themselves and living their best lives. Or hopping into a taxi in London on their way to win a million-pound contract. Or laughing with their kids and definitely not screaming into a pillow because they had 2 of hours sleep.
This isn’t new. It’s Capitalism 101.
Selling us the lifestyle we want certainly doesn’t end with TV or magazine ads, either. Just take one scroll through Instagram and you’ll probably find an influencer sponsored by a fast fashion brand, maybe nonchalantly laughing into their cup of coffee, whilst you’re sat at your desk at work.
The message that these companies hope we’re hearing? “If you buy these clothes you can be like us too”.
However, Primark seems to have taken the idea of selling a lifestyle and really run with it. They’ve created a wonderland which they claim allows shoppers to “spend time with friends and family, eat great food, recharge and have fun, and find everything under one roof…all at an amazing price”.
Within its 160,000 square feet, they’ve built a microcosm of the lifestyle that we want. Whilst we’re there, we can truly embrace the (entirely fictional) life that we believe influencers have. We can pretend that we are actually inside a Primark ad.
After all, who doesn’t want a day that consists of lovely clothes and coffee, with the potential to get your nails done and meet Minnie Mouse? That sound pretty bloody incredible, if you ask me.
So, no, I’m not suggesting that all of the aspects of the new Primark store are in themselves bad. I totally see the appeal. If you’d have told me about the opening of the shop two years ago, I would’ve been booking myself a ticket up to Birmingham to experience it in all of its glory. However, when I heard news of the shop a few days ago and read about what its visitors were to expect, it all felt a bit manipulative.
I mean, let’s get one thing straight. Primark probably didn’t invest millions of pounds into building this store because they want you to have the chance to hang out with your friends and family. They built it because they knew it made great business sense.
On top of that, behind the Disney smiles and bright colours it’s necessary to confront the sinister side of the shop: The part it plays within the fast fashion system.
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Primark themselves have recently faced claims that they could be hiring children aged 14 in supply factories. However, even if that’s untrue, the fact remains that fast fashion (the selling of clothes cheaply, with the intention that they will soon be replaced as they will be “out of style”) is an unsustainable system. It’s founded on the key principle of getting people to buy, and to buy quickly, ultimately creating more waste than our planet can handle.
So, this haven of shopping and self-care is, behind it all, a way to get us to buy into this system.
And, not only that, but it’s a way to get us to buy into the system in on a scale that we never have before. We’re no longer talking about the prospect of people popping into Primark whilst on their lunch break. We’re potentially talking about dedicating a whole morning to the Primark “experience”; about day trips with “friends and family” to a single clothes shop!
Those Micky Mouse shaped pancakes aren’t there because they taste good (though, I’m sure they do!), but to keep shoppers in the store longer. To keep all of us buying. And probably because they’ll be so damn Instagramable that every visitor will be giving the company free advertising, too.
Whilst the initial concern that I had was about the way that this new megastore would feed into the fast fashion system, I’m also worried about the idea of having a “one-stop shop” more generally. Whilst I know it’s certainly not anything new (after all, department stores with coffee shops and even whole restaurants inside of them definitely exist), it’s still worth noting the impact that this could have on smaller or independent businesses.
This could potentially slash the profits of local shops. Not only those that sell clothes, but salons, barbers and cafes too.
To me, it all feels like another step towards the decimation of small businesses.
As I said, it’s not that don’t see the huge appeal of the mammoth new Primark shop. Even as someone who advocates for conscious consumption and actively tries to avoid fast fashion at all costs, I’d be tempted to go inside. I want to get a pancake in the shape of a cartoon character, get my nails done and look shit hot whilst doing it.
So, they’re definitely on to something as far as business is concerned.
Frankly, I don’t have any major problem with individuals buying things from Primark that they actually need, especially not when it’s all that a lot of us can afford. Or when people simply aren’t aware of the harm that these companies cause. What I do have a problem with though, is huge corporations finding as many ways as possible to encourage (read: trick) us into mass consumption, knowing the destruction that it will cause.
Related post: My tips for shopping ethically on a budget
The fact remains that, at its core, the opening of this new shop is a way to get us to give our money to a corrupt system that encourages the exploitation of people and the planet, whilst lining the pockets of huge corporations and taking away from independent businesses.
But, on the plus side, I did hear that they have water bottle refill stations is the shop, so I guess they’re doing one thing right.