UPDATE: Following the incident at Topshop, its owner, Philip Green, has been named in the House of Lords as the businessman who had taken out an injunction to cover allegations of bullying and sexual and racial harassment. The former leader of the House of Commons, Lord Hain, said, “I feel it’s my duty under parliamentary privilege to name Philip Green as the individual in question given that the media have been subject to an injunction preventing publication of the full details of this story which is clearly in the public interest.” The story was reported in the Daily Telegraph, which investigated allegations made against the businessman for eight months, but were legally prevented from publishing them because of an injunction taken out by Green.
Personally, this confirms my idea that Green holds his staff and potential customers in contempt, and does not support or care about the women who have played such a large part in his wealth and success. As long as he is associated with Topshop, I will be boycotting the store.
“You may have three half pence in your pocket and not a prospect in the world… but in your new clothes you can stand on the street corner, indulging in a private daydream of yourself as Clark Gable or Greta Garbo,” wrote George Orwell, in The Road To Wigan Pier. When I was growing up, Topshop was the physical space in which most of my private daydreams took place. There were agonies – all jeans-related – and ecstasies. At 15, I went into Poole’s Dolphin centre, walked straight into Topshop and impulsively, dizzily spent absolutely all of my birthday money on a matte PVC aviator jacket. It was the platonic ideal of pink, an undeniable shade of strawberry milkshake. Every zip and pocket was concealed, which made it seem like a garment from the future. If Uma Thurman’s Gattaca character had gone on a big night out, she would have worn a jacket exactly like that one.
It wasn’t the first item of clothing I ever bought, but it was the first that I didn’t purchase to piss off my mum. It wasn’t short or low cut. It wasn’t hanging on a five-pound sale rail, covered in cracked, flaking sequins. It made me feel thrillingly grown up without promising any sort of sexual performance. Every time I buy something that makes me feel like me – the most optimistic, confident, bold version of myself – I mentally flash back to that jacket.
Scarlett Curtis’ new book, Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (And Other Lies), a collection of essays written by a range of women about what feminism means to them in 2018, seems like a perfect fit for Topshop shoppers – women who want to feel bold and optimistic. So, it made sense to me that Topshop would host a pop-up event to promote the book in the Oxford Street flagship store, last week. The royalties raised by book sales will go to the UN’s women’s leadership charity Girl Up. Many of the essays in the book are written by well-known, well-dressed women, including Emma Watson and Jameela Jamil. The collaboration was bound to benefit both sides – books would get sold, and Topshop’s brand identity would get a boost.
Then, publisher Penguin posted a tweet announcing that the pop-up display had been dismantled before the initial launch. Topshop issued a statement announcing it had been decided, from “a production and creative standpoint”, to cancel the pop up. It is thought that Philip Green, the chairman of the Arcadia group, which owns Topshop, Topman, Wallis, Evans, Burton, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, and Outfit, was behind this decision. Topshop announced they would donate £25,000 to Girl Up, as a gesture of goodwill.
It’s a place where so many of us dressed up and thought about the women we would like to become
Green is thought to be worth $4.9bn. The statement ended with the words, “this in no way reflects our stance on feminism… we continue to fully support the sentiment of the book, Scarlett Curtis, feminism and equality.” It’s baffling. How can you make that claim, while erasing visible feminism from your store? How can you “fully support” the message of a book when you have withdrawn it from sale? I approached Topshop in order to give them the right to reply and the chance to discuss this further, and was told that the brand has no further comment at this time. A report in The Guardian documented previous dealings between Green and Penguin, remarking that the publisher released a biography of Green – Damaged Goods by Oliver Shah. “Green, who once described Shah as a ‘disgusting individual’, was reported to have been considering legal action over the book,” they said.
Currently, there is a sold out “Feminist” T-shirt by Tee & Cake listed on the Topshop website, originally retailing at £18. Last year, their Females Of The Future shirt sold out every time they restocked it. I’m confused. Obviously, feminism can be utilised to help the brand make a profit. At what point does feminism – to be very broad, the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of equality of the sexes – stop making good business sense to Green, and start making him feel threatened? Why on earth would you take down a big display from your most famous branch in a way that says, very clearly, to the vast majority of your shoppers: “I do not care about you, or your humanity, and I’m not even going to pretend to while I take your money.”
For years, I thought of Topshop as a feminist space. Not because of the T-shirts, or even because of the design collaborations with talented women like Curtis, Kate Moss, Celia Birtwell, Beyoncé and Mary Katrantzou. But because it’s where teenage girls go to indulge in their private daydreams. It’s a place where so many of us dressed up and thought about the women we would like to become. Where we took the proceeds of our first forays into the world of work and made ourselves as spectacular and unignorable as we dared to be. Every fight with my mum through a changing-room curtain was really a discussion about womanhood, and how I’d forge the lines of myself against the boundaries she set. For years, my greatest joy as a big sister with a little disposable income was to take my broke siblings to Topshop and splurge on the dress they’d been circling for weeks. Perhaps most importantly, and to Green’s chagrin, you can spend an afternoon in Topshop without spending any money at all, simply being close to your friends. In a small but significant way, it was where we learned about power, choice and bonding.
Heartbreakingly, it seems that this era is over. In this day and age, I cannot give money to an institution that believes a book about feminism cannot be reconciled with their brand identity “from a production and creative standpoint”. I will simply have to get much more creative about where I shop, because I refuse to produce profit for a man who believes that my sisters, my friends, female writers and fashion lovers do not matter. I believe that money is the only language the patriarchy really understands. If Green does not want to educate himself by reading a book about modern feminism, he’ll learn the basics pretty quickly when millions of his customers start spending their cash elsewhere. You can’t maintain an ego that fragile without expecting bad news for Topshop’s bottom line. You certainly can’t sell us feminism on a T-shirt if you’re not prepared to bring the principles back to the business.