When did independent become so dull?
We’ve been passing through the underground pit that is Old St roundabout for many years. Our long suffering senses have spent many a morning dodging sick and avoiding pee soaked corners, trying not to inhale the suspicious hot air being pumped out of looming ventilators. So the recent transformation has come as a pleasant surprise -we and our senses welcome the colourfully painted walls and presence of vendors – actual human creatures not just the smelly remnants they leave behind! (Never sounded so much like our parents). So no, this is not a rant against gentrification – that’s a debate far too momentous for a blog post to enter the fray. Our contentions are much more superficial. What we want to know is – when did the independent brands and ventures, spearheading the regeneration of many of London’s more scruffy neighbourhoods, become so dull?
What lends so much vibrancy, intrigue and character to the up-and-coming fringes of London, is the diversity of people and places there, the dearth of big predictable brands that make so many of Britain’s high streets near identikit replicas of one another. But for some time now, we’ve noticed so-called independent brands failing to live up to their name by nature. And when independent brands are barely distinguishable from one another, surely their reason for existence starts to be called into question?
Coffee shops are some of the worst culprits, including one of the new spaces in the Old St underpass. The pared back industrial décor – exposed brick and concrete, minimal and stark lighting, dominance of black and brown, all lending an aura of grandeur to the stainless steel beauty of the coffee machine – is imitated in countless spaces around London, England (the world!). A Time Out article written this year on ‘The Eight Types of Independent Coffee Shops in London’ shows eight spaces near identical, save the ‘coffee to go’ van.
The thing about chains, the reason consumers go back to them time after time, is that they’re reliable and safe – you know what you’re going to get, be that a good deal, or the chicken korma curry take away with just the right amount of spice. Independent brands serve to offer something different, something unpredictable and special, and many charge a premium for the privilege. Our question is if they can continue to do so if they keep giving in to the temptation to play it safe.