The Rise and Fall of Topshop

Words by Kat Mallett

For as long as many of us can remember, Topshop has stood tall and firm at the heart of our great British highstreets. A go to for new trends at accessible prices, Topshop’s seamless blend of creativity, affordability and fun have helped to establish its position as a consumer favourite for many years. However, with the rise of fast-fashion brands such as Primark and Missguided, Topshop has been lagging behind, struggling to remain relevant in this frenzy of fast-fashion and consumer culture that we now live in.

The pandemic has had devastating consequences for many businesses, but Topshop is quite arguably the most high-profile high-street casualty, with Arcadia Group reporting to have gone into administration last Monday. Topshop was once a beloved and treasured gem of the high-street, operating 444 stores in the UK alone and having featured on the pages of Vogue. It’s star-studded rise can be partly attributed to its brand director from 1998 to 2006, Jane Shepherdson, who had bold visions for the Topshop empire. Shepherdson disbanded Topshop’s predictable teen aesthetic, and instead Topshop began to sell high-fashion pieces, at high-street prices.

Topshop’s staggering success cannot simply be attributed to its bold, new design direction but also to the atmosphere that its shops incubated and nurtured. During the noughties, stores such as the Oxford Street flagship store were alive with loud music and video screens, creating a fun and immersive experience for consumers. Philip Green, chairman of the Arcadia Group, has always endorsed Shepherdson’s interactive and playful shopfloor, as it is evident that fashion is just as much about emotion as it is the clothes. An immersive customer experience complete with nail bars and cupcake stands, Green understood the importance of emotion in fashion, and how clothes have the power to make consumers feel good about themselves.

However, it wasn’t long before Topshop found itself at the mercy of the persistent fast-fashion industry cycle. Cheaper brands such as Missguided and Boohoo have began to offer clothes at a fraction of the price, with the focus of such companies being on the convenience of shopping online, and more specifically on their smart phones. Young people cherish the ease and accessibility of fast fashion, as it lays dormant at the touch of their fingers. There is no longer such a longing for the traditional shopfloor shopping experience, as our contemporary consumer culture has a ‘more is more’ ethos. Such an ideology encourages people to purchase clothing at an extremely fast rate, with the average lifetime of a garment being estimated at 2.2 years, according to WRAP UK. The longevity of an item of clothing is no longer a major concern for the consumer, as we are now seeing the rise of a throwaway culture, in which clothing has become startingly disposable.

Despite the uncertain future of the high-street, there is still a glimmer of hope for Topshop. Of all the Arcadia Group brands, it has been the most consistent global household name for many years and in turn has established itself at the heart of the lively fashion industry. In order to beat the collateral symptoms of the pandemic, it is integral that Topshop re-focuses itself as a company that is totally committed to sustainability, in order to stand out in an industry saturated in overproduction and excess. I would be extremely sad to see the shell of a once busy Topshop on my local high-street, as it has long been a staple store in my countless shopping expeditions. Hundreds of high streets around the UK would feel slightly less complete without the original home of high-street sophistication.