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

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.

Gender issues

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.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.