Big box shopping gets a new spin.
Shopping malls usually have a similar vibe: the same big-brand stores, a large and badly-lit floorspace, mediocre fast-food choices and an overall lack of street-cred.
The recently opened BoxPark Shoreditch, named for the East London neighborhood where it is located, is notably lacking in all these elements. Director Roger Wade says his creation is the world’s first “pop-up mall” and is intended to serve as a seamless addition to the community where it now sits, at least for a while.
BoxPark’s clean and minimalist design aesthetic along with free WiFi and spacious outdoor patio seating attracts a young and artistic crowd, owing to Shoreditch’s reputation as the center of the UK’s digital economy and as a hub for creative individuals. Tired of the fact that nearly every high street in the UK offered the same retailers, Wade was keen to give independent brands a platform in East London.
“We like to see the rebirth of independents in the UK market because we believe that’s the rebirth of creativity,” Wade says. “If we destroy our independent base then we’re destroying an important part of the creative community of the UK – the high street will have nothing to look at anymore.”
Unlike the gargantuan Westfield shopping center development in East London’s Olympic city – which is Europe’s largest urban shopping mall – BoxPark went from “tip-site to shopping mall” in just under 12 months and is designed to have a far less permanent impact.
Built on top of railway sleepers using re-purposed shipping containers, BoxPark will occupy its current location for 5 years, though some of the stores and brands present will undoubtedly change within that period. In addition, 90 percent of BoxPark’s materials and components can be reused for another project or location, leaving the land unchanged once the structure is removed.
Offering affordable rents and flexible leases lasting from 1 to 5 years, Wade says BoxPark uses a very different business model than most shopping centers.
“We don’t look at financial strengths or the size of their business, we just look at the strength of their brands,” Wade says. “What that allows smaller brands to do is dip their toe in the water and see if retail is for them because many of them have never retailed before.”
The tenants of the roughly 50 tiny units are a mixture of independent brands, cafes, restaurants, and off-shoots of larger brands, such as FiftyFiveDSL and Puma. The Levi’s Commuter Range, which offers clothing designed specifically for urban cyclists, has opened a temporary bike shop in addition to their clothing store while a Nike iD design studio offers a space where customers can design their own custom kicks. In addition to a wide variety of street-wear brands, Amnesty International has a floorspace as well as Farah Vintage and a Phaidon bookseller.
The emerging trend of pop-ups in urban centers like London has been aided by the recession, as vacant land and empty storefronts leave landlords eager to fill space, even if it’s just with a short-term tenant. But Wade, who spent 20 years running his own brand and working in street fashion, says tough economic times are not where the original idea of a pop-up shop came from.
“Brands like Adidas in the early stages had pop up stores in places like Carnaby Street and they were only there for a few days, offered limited edition products and had a thousand kids lined up,” Wade says. “That one message is a consumer driven message – it’s quite pure.”
Wade, who has worked with popular streetwear brands such as Carhartt and G-Star, says he’s always felt more comfortable in a street wear environment rather than a designer one, which is what inspired the vibe of BoxPark.
“I’ve never wanted to be a victim of elitism,” Wade says. “I felt like when get a lot of designer brands it’s all about making an elitist statement and doing that is quite easy: you charge a lot of money, you act quite aloof and you’re very selective about who you sell to. I just believe that all people are equal and that we should make fashion accessible to everybody and that we should let the products do the talking.”
Images: BoxPark Shoreditch