Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Posted by Bethan Holt, Junior Fashion Editor at Large

It wasn't so long ago that it was the ultimate fashion badge of honour to have your dress mistaken for a Prada, when it was actually a £5 knock-off from Primark. Hence the coining of its famed "Primarni" nickname. Shopping at the mass, impossibly cheap retailer was an exciting new habit to feed our clothes addiction without, in turn, making a significant dent in the already-too-steep credit card bill. It seemed quite genius.

Primarni (image via flickr.com)
For a while, Primark lost its edge. Once we realised that the "Prada" dress only lasted two washes and by then everyone else had it anyway, the excitement wore off and many of us went back to high street favourites like Zara and Topshop where prices may have been a bit higher but quality and design far superior. This doesn't mean that Primark suffered because die-hard fashion fans fell out of love with the brand. They probably made up such a small overall percentage of customers that a growing popularity with families and former M&S shoppers quickly plugged the gap. In fact, in the six months up to March, Primark's takings rose 24% to £2billion which increased profits by an astonishing 55% to £238million. Chairman Charles Sinclair put these rosy figures down to "much improved" profit margins and European customers taking "enthusiastically" to newly opened Primark shops.

The Bangladesh factory tragedy made a far wider audience question the true value of clothes which are available to buy at such cheap prices. Primark did a good job of swiftly patching up the PR damage by signing up to agreements on improving factory conditions and underlining the work of their ethical trade team. We will have to wait until later this year to understand whether shoppers took their wallets elsewhere in the aftermath of Bangladesh but there's no doubt that Primark's name (along with that of numerous other retailers) was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Primark parka £22 at ASOS
Primark striped dungarees £14 at ASOS
This week sees two significant developments which suggest Primark might be seeking to claw back its Primarni reputation as a favourite among fashion devotees. Selfridges have been talking up their new Denim Studio, which opened on Monday, with a quote which goes something along the lines of "Our new denim offer will have everything from £11 Primark jeans to £11,000 Paige custom embellished denim". Lines like that embed the idea that Primark is not only cheap but also worthy of a place in one of the world's best and most fashion-forward department stores.
Primark Miami tee £6 at ASOS
The second big move for Primark is a move to online retail with a small edit of 20 items now for sale on ASOS. Most tellingly, everything in the ASOS mix plays into what young girls are wearing now: striped dungarees, varsity slogan printed crop tops and a graffiti tube skirt. These aren't the kind of straight copies which we were once used to seeing from Primark but more just the key pieces that lots of us want this summer. And rather than relying on us to venture into their massive, confusing, hot and crammed stores, Primark is cleverly placing itself in the kinds of spaces (on and offline) where they know those consumers they might have lost after the initial Primarni excitement still go. Clever.

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