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Rebuilding Retail

With the rise of the experience economy, the retail industry is having to rethink its business model. Rosaleen McMeel meets British designer and CEO Anya Hindmarch who is leading the way.

Investing in bricks-and-mortar during one of the most tumultuous times for the retail sector is not for the faint of heart. Although the writing has been on the wall for some time, most recent events have seen an acceleration to digital as lockdown forced everyone to ‘add to cart’. While the luxury sector has displayed early signs of a strong recovery in the face of pandemic losses, many mid-market brands haven’t been quite so lucky. For many, the shutters have come down for good. While others still scramble to iron out their online distribution, one British designer is reshaping the retail model and carving out a whole new path back on (whisper it) the High Street.

Anya Hindmarch, purveyor of her eponymous accessory brand, opened the first of its kind five-store retail concept in May in London’s Belgravia, aptly named The Village.

“The concept was in the planning for at least two years, but it has been a dream of mine for much longer than that,” says the designer and CEO. “It is a collection of five neighbourhood stores on Pont Street with an Anya Cafe at its heart. I had in mind a really creative place that is ever changing and fun for everyone.”

This quintet of neighbouring Anya Hindmarch stores includes the aforementioned Anya Cafe, The Village Hall (an evolving concept space which launched with a hair salon), The Plastic Store (the home of the brand’s I Am A Plastic Bag totes), The Labelled Store, and The Bespoke Store, which offers personalisation.

“It really feels as if I am going back to my roots. This pull feels even stronger to me in a world where, I feel, we want to go back to a local world, more than a global world. It just feels really right.

“The magic of the place is that it will constantly evolve. I have loved each incarnation so far and the cafe has become such a special place. It is somewhere I can pour all of my creative energy, visit regularly and change to showcase projects or champion causes and issues.” 

The location of Hindmarch’s reimagined Village holds particular significance. “Pont Street is the site of my very first store – my first office used to be above The Bespoke Store and it is a really special place for me.” she says. “It really feels as if I am going back to my roots. This pull feels even stronger to me in a world where, I feel, we want to go back to a local world, more than a global world. It just feels really right.”

Simultaneously, the company has closed many of their 60-strong network of stores across the globe. “It felt like we were walking a tightrope, so this feels much more authentic and I can really be there, physically and then reach the world digitally,” Hindmarch explains.

It’s a brave move in an industry determined to put all its eggs in the digital basket, but Hindmarch has always had a strong track record offering great products with exceptional customer experiences.

Her London Fashion Week installations are legendary. The Weave Project was a massive woven art installation visitors could climb through, while her Chubby Hearts Over London saw Chubby Heart balloons suspended over (and sometimes squashed within) London landmarks in a declaration of love to the city. That was swiftly followed by the Chubby Cloud – an installation at Whitehall’s Banqueting House, which saw visitors sink into the world’s biggest beanbag, designed to mirror the cloud theme in her AW 2018 collection, as they looked at up at the magnificent 17th century Rubens ceiling. Now, her witty innovations have a permanent home where consumers can engage with the brand in a meaningful way.

“I really believe in the value of bricks-and-mortar retail, but if it is to exist in a digital first world, we need to offer real reasons to visit.” Hindmarch says. “The Village is somewhere you can visit, meet, learn, enjoy, as well as shop – it is intended as a creative, fun place where we can really engage with our community. And to hang out with people, something I certainly want to do again.

I cannot speak on behalf of the entire industry, but experience is certainly central to our strategy going forward.

“It’s about all our creativity and giving everything a home to put all of our creative ideas into that will change a lot. It’s very inclusive, so you can come and buy a cake that’s almost as beautiful as a handbag, in a beautiful box in a beautiful carrier bag, and that might be £7 [US$10] or whatever it is, and so anyone can come in and experience the brand. It’s a blank canvas for me, and it takes retail back to something that I think has a real purpose and amplifies what we’re doing online. So it very much goes hand-in-hand with a very digital business.”

Hindmarch knows the retail world is becoming increasingly virtual, but she’s hedging her bets on people continuing to crave physical experiences.

“I cannot speak on behalf of the entire industry, but experience is certainly central to our strategy going forward,” she continues. “Being able to open The Village at such a difficult time for retail has been a hugely rewarding and positive experience.” 

As for what’s next, the designer has been busy plotting more ways to promote positive fashion through The Village. “We have lots of exciting projects in the pipeline. I will continue to use our platform to communicate around issues of circularity and the reduction of single-use plastic consumption about which I am passionate. Our Return to Nature collection pushes forward with the ideas of circularity and zero waste and is the result of years of research into creating a collection that would leave as little impact as possible at the end of its life cycle. I am proud of what we are doing to raise visibility of these issues and will keep doing all that I can.” 


If In Doubt, Wash Your Hair by Anya Hindmarch,
published by Bloomsbury, is out now.

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