Why feminists don’t buy in Topshop (and other boycotts)
Cantillon: Philip Green denies all but ‘banter’ but shoppers deserting his stores
Arcadia chairman Philip Green: has a catalogue of sexual harassment, racist abuse and bullying allegations against him. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe
It was only “some banter”, nothing unlawful or offensive, suggested British retail tycoon Philip Green at the weekend, in response to the catalogue of sexual harassment, racist abuse and bullying allegations against him. Ah, but it’s only a boycott, say the women who once shopped in his most female-focused fashion empire, Arcadia, but feel reluctant to do so in future.
It did not even take Green’s naming as the man at the centre of a “#MeToo” injunction to trigger the #PinkNotGreen boycott. The latter hashtag has been afloat since the start of October, when the Arcadia-owned Topshop abruptly reneged on a commercial partnership with Penguin to promote the book Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies), reportedly after Green saw an in-store pop-up stall for it in Topshop’s flagship London Oxford Street store.
There’s some history here. In 2010, Topshop was the target of protests about corporate tax avoidance after activists highlighted how Arcadia’s massive dividends were paid tax-free to its direct owner, Green’s Monaco-dwelling wife Tina. His involvement in the BHS pensions scandal – MPs said he had engaged in a “systematic plunder” of the chain – did not exactly endear him to anyone either.
It’s easy to be cynical about boycott threats that live mostly on social media and don’t appear to wipe out the footfall in stores. But consider this finding from research group YouGov’s Brand Index study: young customers at Topshop and stablemate Topman are more than twice as likely to want a brand to stand up for gender issues than the population at large. They’re also more likely to stop giving custom to a brand associated with something with which they disagree.
Green’s new notoriety has come at a particularly fragile time for many clothing retailers, including Arcadia’s Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins, which face being eclipsed by cheapest-of-the-cheap Primark/Penneys and nimble online-only operations like Boohoo and Asos. Some shoppers are voting according to their beliefs, some according to their wallets, some both. It is not a smart time to be losing any of them.
In terms of pure fashion cachet, Topshop’s peak is some way behind it anyway. Its success on this score was not Green’s, but belongs to former brand director Jane Shepherdson, who had the good sense to leave in 2006.