Consumers are discovering the delights of authentic fare

Ethical retailers are coming into their own as consumers rediscover the delights of home-grown and authentic fare. Trish Lorenz reports

It may be a time of general doom and gloom on the British high street, but not all retailers are suffering. Earlier this month the Co-operative Group posted record results: gross sales are up 15 per cent and breaking through the £10bn barrier, and operating profit is up 11 per cent.

Co-op chief executive Peter Marks attributed the success to a business model geared around local communities and social responsibility. ‘Our focus on social responsibility is more attractive [to consumers] than ever before and we believe 2009 is going to be another successful year,’ says Marks.

It seems that as globalisation loses its gloss, retailers which can convince consumers that they are staying true to their local roots and identity are prospering.

It’s a theme that trend analyst Trendwatching.com is calling (Still) Made Here. ‘(Still) Made Here encompasses both new and existing purveyors of the local. In a world that is seemingly ruled by globalisation, mass production and “cheapest of the cheapest”, a growing number of consumers are seeking out the local and authentic,’ it says in its briefing.

According to Trendwatching, the trend encompasses not just local provenance but also what it calls ‘the authentic, the storied and the ecofriendly’ – retailers with stories that ring true, with a provenance that can be proven and with solid social and ecological credentials.

And you don’t have to look too far to see the concept at work. Lisbon-based A Vida Portuguesa is a great example. The store – located in a former soap factory in the city’s trendy Chiado area – only sells brands that are unique to Portugal, have stayed true to their original packaging, are made by hand, or represent traditional Portuguese craftsmanship. It has more than 1000 products, ranging from toiletries to stationery and homewares on sale. Its customers include both nostalgic adults and younger consumers attracted by old-fashioned products and retro packaging that provide an alternative to mainstream brands.

London-based Labour and Wait takes a similar approach. The store sells a range of products from hardware to clothing, and chooses items that are traditionally manufactured and packaged.

‘We seek out specialist manufacturers who make their goods in the traditional way and to the original design,’ says co-founder Rachel Wythe- Moran. The group launched in 2001 and recently opened three stores in Japan and a concession in London’s Dover Street Market. ‘We’re really noticing that people are sick of the high street and the way it all looks the same,’ says Whyte-Moran. ‘They’re looking for longevity and an alternative to disposable consumption.’

Ethical British fashion retailer Izzy Lane combines local provenance with a strong ethical message. Every aspect of its product is made within 150km of its base. Wool is sourced from its flock of rescued sheep, most of which were destined for the meat markets before Izzy Lane saved them. The clothing is made by local craftsmen, including the last worsted spinners and dyers in the Bradford area, and manufactured at a local mill.

For each Izzy Lane garment the full provenance, from the fleece through the whole manufacturing process to the garment itself, is known. Even supermarkets are a target for this new thinking.

Website Pop to the Shops, which launched late last year, currently serves four high street areas in Wales. It’s an online offering for customers who want to use local stores but don’t always have the time.

Customers can shop day or night and select products from the local butcher, baker and fishmonger, among others. Similar to online shopping at supermarkets, customers can save favourite products and specify when they’d like delivery to take place.

As all these examples show, this trend is a combination of locality, social responsibility, authenticity and provenance. And interestingly, taking this approach doesn’t mean saying goodbye to global markets.

Greek beauty brand Korres has prospered in the UK and across the rest of Europe by focusing on its provenance and the authenticity of ingredients.

The secret, it seems, is honesty. At a time when, as Trendwatching says, ‘Global has come to represent faceless, rootless megacorporations headed up by money-grabbing executives’, it appears that consumers are looking for something closer to home and with a story that really resonates.

KEEPING IT REAL

Labour and Wait – retailer with stores in London and Japan offering items that are traditionally manufactured and packaged

Izzy Lane – a fashion retailer combining local provenance with a strong ethical message

Pop to the Shops – online shopping site supplying local produce

Korres – Greek beauty brand which focuses on authenticity

A Vida Portuguesa – a Lisbon-based store which sells Portuguese products with original packaging, made by hand and representing traditional craftsmanship

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