From jazz cafes to indie fashion, it’s time to pop-up shop til you drop…

SOMETIMES it feels like this era will be defined by its capacity for change. Or, some might argue, its rejection of stasis. The Age of Change they’ll call it, as children of the future write essays (or perhaps craft digital soundscapes - whatever the kids are doing by then) about the time when social media, technology, global heating, consumerism and an abundance of other factors sent the world spinning into a state of constant restless evolution.

72% of millenials would rather spend money based on experiences than simply material goods, a trend that goes some way to helping explain the rise of pop-ups

That evolution has become what we thrive on and, as humans pursue newness and innovation faster than ever, industries must be smart in order to reap the commercial benefits. Nowhere is this truer than on the high street, where habits, trends and developing tech has transformed the retail experience. In less than a lifetime, we’ve gone from being local buyers to becoming online shoppers. Since the first Amazon purchase of a book in 1995, ecommerce has exploded - with 73% of online sales expected to be made from mobile devices by 2021.

Social media plays an ever greater part in our shopping habits, with giants like Facebook, Instagram and, most recently, TikTok introducing ecommerce features that weave online shopping into the everyday experience. There’s something important in that idea of experience. Today more than ever, it’s what consumers crave. More than just transactions, we’re after moments of interaction as we shop, searching for retailers who share our values and can offer us something more than just a digital receipt or a ‘have a nice day!’

Politically, economically and environmentally we’re living in uncertain times, and choices feel all the more significant because of it. A recent study found that 72% of millennials would rather spend money based on experiences than simply material goods, a trend that goes some way to helping explain the rise of pop-ups. Offering spaces that balance experiences and sales transactions, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, even five years ago the UK pop-up industry was worth an estimated £2.3 billion, with 44% of consumers having been to a pop-up in the previous 12 months. Pop-ups are places where brands can engage intimately with their audience, creating exclusive, shareable experiences without the high overheads of the permanence of bricks and mortar. And their potential impact on the country’s high streets is not to be underestimated.

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BLK BX in the Trinity Centre hosts fashion, art and even jazz

Here in Leeds, where the retail and leisure sectors have seen around £1 billion of investment in the past decade, the pop-up scene is picking up pace. Last March saw the opening of BLK BX in the Trinity Centre, marking the start of an ever-changing retail experience in the heart of the city. “A revolving retail concept”, BLK BX combines music, art, fashion and design; showcasing a selection of brands and creatives, with additional opportunities including gigs and workshops to help involve local artists and get their voices heard.

Since opening, BLK BX has hosted retail concepts such as Crywolf and brands including Blood Brother, and art from the likes of Dan Syrett, Nicolas Dixon and Florence Blanchard. The start of this year also saw a little caffeine added to the mix, with the launch of The Mobile Jazz Cafe. Brainchild of Leeds-based drummer Greg Gallagher, this brings together coffee and jazz (and perhaps the odd cake) in a chilled-out atmosphere, with BLK BX providing a launchpad for Greg’s dream of one day setting up a permanent independent jazz bar.

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Clicks and Mortar - looking out from online

Also up and running is the latest instalment of Amazon’s pop-up chain Clicks and Mortar, an initiative designed to give usually online-only retailers a presence on the high street. With retailers arriving every two weeks, when I head down in February, I find Shole’s sustainable containers (think coffee cups and lunch boxes) along with active wear and cycling apparel from Primal Europe, high-end shoes chez McKickz and stylish backpacks courtesy ROKA London.   

Father-and-son team Matt and Sam Donoghue founded their eco gym wear company OC Gear after encountering the true impact of single-use plastic on our oceans while on holiday. Their social enterprise sells a unique range of clothing and accessories made from recycled materials, with 50% of profits going to charity. Matt explains how having space in Clicks and Mortar has transformed OC Gear responds to customer needs: being here allows them a real-life, two-way connection and conversation with consumers, who can share their demands and reactions instantly as they experience the brand’s ethos first-hand, giving Matt and Sam direct insight into what makes people buying their products tick.

As one of the newest traders in the pop-up, Matt and Sam’s story shows how vital the physical act of shopping still is to today’s shoppers. Matt tells me how hard it can be for brands to establish themselves solely in the online space and how the past five weeks alone have allowed OC Gear to expand more than ever before. It’s inspiring to hear.

Ecommerce isn’t about to stop growing, but the wave of unapologetic creativity surging forward in new, more agile spaces is changing the way high streets operate. Now, it isn’t just where we put our money that makes a difference - it’s where we put our trust, our beliefs, our time and our conversation.

BLK BX, Trinity Leeds, Albion Street, LS1 5AT. Open Monday to Saturday 9am-8pm, Sunday 11am-5pm.

Read more - Top things to do in Leeds: March 2020