Leading fashion indies in England continue to operate with safety measures in place almost one month after ‘Freedom Day’

Leading fashion indies based in England report little change to sales or footfall following last month’s highly anticipated ‘Freedom Day.’ Analysts predicted a surge in shoppers visiting the high street once restrictions eased on Monday 19 July, however early Springboard data suggests slower growth than expected for retail destinations during that week overall.

‘Freedom Day’ saw the government lifting most of the country’s Covid-19 restrictions, including social distancing and the legal requirement to wear a face mask in public indoor spaces. However, many independent retailers say they are continuing to operate with the same safety measures as they did prior to the easing of restrictions and that most shoppers are still choosing to wear face coverings in stores.

Donna Nichol, owner of leading UK indie Chloe James Lifestyle, says that ‘Freedom Day’ has made very little difference to her boutique’s in-store environment or footfall: “After a lot of thought we decided to keep our Perspex screen up at the till and that the staff would continue to wear masks for now,” she explains. “And although we’d prefer our customers to wear masks, we are not enforcing mask wearing in the shop. As it happens, around 85-90 per cent are still wearing a face mask when they come in.”

She adds: “Business has been pretty good since reopening in April, but we haven’t seen a lift linked to Freedom Day. I’m hopeful that shoppers will continue to support the independents and their local high streets and that we won’t be affected by people returning to their offices in London.”

Nottingham-based womenswear indie Stick and Ribbon is also continuing to operate with the same safety measures in place. Owner Sally Longden explains: “We are still asking customers to use the hand sanitiser before they browse and we are keeping an eye on numbers in the store at any one time. The team is continuing to wear masks in the shop but it’s a difficult one as shoppers are only advised to wear masks and you don’t want to welcome them with a request to wear a mask. However, it’s not really been an issue as around 90 per cent of people are wearing masks anyway.”

The city centre boutique also hasn’t seen a rise in footfall following the easing of restrictions, with Longden reporting at slight decline: “I actually think that sales and footfall have reduced over recent weeks.  Whether the ‘pingdemic’ is having an impact on this I’m really not sure, but one thing I do know is that shopping habits have changed and it’s about finding a way to get customers back in store. Hopefully with new season stock on the horizon, people will start to think about their winter wardrobes and many may be returning to the office and want a little style revamp.”

Meanwhile, North England womenswear indie group The Edit has seen a “significant increase” in 2019/20 profits overall and owner Penny Rawson says it hasn’t been affected by the current ‘pingdemic.’ She says: “I think as long as there are no further lockdowns we will have a good year. We haven’t made any changes in the store other than not asking customers to wear masks, but around 90 per cent are choosing to wear one anyway. Since reopening we haven’t been forced to close any of our stores because of staffing issues, but we’ve covered any absences at a cost.”