Thursday, December 1, 2011


Posted by Melanie Rickey, Fashion Editor at Large

Boxpark Shoreditch looks a lot like this, but I didn't have a helicopter to get the angle

I must admit I was quite excited about the prospect of Boxpark, which promised to be the "coolest pop-up shopping mall in the coolest area of the coolest city of the planet." The idea behind it is to use former shipping containers recycled to use use as shops, and have them occupied by young clever brands that would not normally be able to afford their own retail space. The concept allows the piled up containers to be placed in a disused area, thus regenerating it while also creating work for local unemployed people and helping young businesses to flourish in these challenging economic times. The Boxpark idea also seemed to offer something new and, crucially, uncorporate to the shopping area of the locale it is placed in.

The charity Art Against Knives has my favourite outlet. Their rent is subsidised by Boxpark: thumbs up for that. 

That was the idea. The reality is the two storey "pop-up mall", with 40 units downstairs and 20 units upstairs which is dropped next to the new Shoreditch High Street overground station, opposite Shoreditch House private members club, is everything it said it would not be.

Ok, you can build it in a no time; but this is no pop-up. The plan is for Boxpark to stay in positon five years.
I imagined an array of eclectic brands moving in - and was looking forward  to making some discoveries but independent contemporary brands are certainly not in evidence.

This place will be heaven if you are a man over thirty who loves streetwear. Nike has four units. New Era, Kangol, North Face, Diesel, Oakley, Dockers and Puma all have units. Err... last time I looked all of these brands were amongst the biggest and most powerful in their category on the planet.  There are some quirky stores: Cyber Candy sells fun American sweeties and oddly flavoured lip-balms, and both Amnesty International and Art Against Knives have units upstairs alongside the food and drink outlets which are genuinely good...

Fancy kissing someoen whose lips taste of chips?

The guy behind Boxpark is Roger Wade, the founder of the Boxfresh street wear label that was cool way back in the 90s. In his press conference, he gave us a whole spiel about how he was "a little guy thinking big". He cited Steve Jobs as his inspiration before painting himself as a Man With a Dream, an idealist who wanted to make shops out of container boxes and change the world of retailing. When he was asked how much it cost to set up, he claimed "It's not about money, its about the the community, the idea, giving back..." Then he introduced his new non-executive chairman, Charles Dunstone of Carphone Warehouse asking him "How many shops do you have, Charles?" The answer was 850.

It would have been so much better if he'd just been honest. Boxpark is about money. Boxpark is a business. There's nothing shameful in that. It is also about his big idea, which is patent pending. Wade got into hot water last month after threatening a similar container shopping mall in Christchurch New Zealand with legal action over Intellectual Property rights. That the container mall was created to house businesses displaced after the earthquake, didn't deter Mr Wade's lawyers.

Roger Wade says "All high streets look the same, from Brighton to Bristol." Yet his plan is to bring Boxpark pop-up malls to the world.

The high points of Boxpark were Art Against Knives and a visit to Hop Namo, the Vietnamese cafe upstairs at the venue. It turns out the owner's parents used to run my favourite Viet Cafe in my old Dalston neighbourhood.