Topshop, with your welcoming entrance you are spoiling us…
If you are on twitter you will probably have noticed the mutterings of the #UKuncut hashtag – from small beginnings it has grown to become the standard bearer of the cuts demonstrations. And to think it all started only a few weeks back, when I got a frantic phone call from one of my friends on the first UK Uncut Vodafone demo. “We’ve got a trending hashtag” he exclaimed somewhat maniacally. “but we’ve misspelled Vodaphone, you’ve got to help us!!” I assured him that a quick glance at twitter confirmed that he didn’t need my twittering powers one iota. And frankly I think it’s Vodafone who’ve got their spelling wrong. Now, thousands of people follow the @UKuncut twitter feed and the #UKuncut hashtag stream is used to communicate between anti-cuts protests up and down the country. Makes you dead proud of your mates it does.
UKUncut by Avril Kelly.
I didn’t manage to get along to that first demo due to my head being buried in the creation of my new book about fashion illustration and ethical fashion design, but I have been avidly following the progress of the cuts protests. And when I heard about the next major target for UK Uncut I was most excited: the Topshop flagship store in Oxford Circus. Regular readers of this blog will no doubt be able to guess that I am not exactly a big fan of Topshop – I know too many small designers who have been ripped off, they have an atrocious human rights record, and I find the association with Kate Moss frankly tedious. Suffice to say I won’t be covering any Topshop collections in Amelia’s Magazine in the near future.
Photograph by Sinister Pictures.
Instead, I hope to be joining more protests. Why? Well, a while ago the papers exposed Sir Philip Green’s cunning tax avoidance trick that enables him to siphon vast profits out of the country and safely into the hands of his Monaco dwelling wife. There was a surge of interest and then the news disappeared. But the cunning folks at UK Uncut have decided to resurrect the gripe. Why? For the simple reason that this country is in the grip of savage cuts to almost everything imaginable. And yet the very rich are able to take our money out of the country: it is the very reverse of the ethos behind the resurgence of local currencies triumphed by Transition Towns. If you use the Brixton Pound in Brixton it enables local money to stay in a local area, enriching the lives of everyone who partakes in the local economy. If you use your pounds in Topshop they leak straight out of the UK, benefiting none of us at all.
Illustration by Ross McEwan.
Why is it that the richer people get the more greedy they become? Surely once you’ve earnt your first billion there’s little reason to keep chasing more? But no, the super rich, chums of our millionaire Con-Dem cabinet (Philip Green has the audacity to advise on austerity measures) together avoid £25 billion in tax by removing it from the country. One argument says that if the UK was to make it less amenable for large businesses to run their services here they would simply take them elsewhere. I fail to see the logic in this: Philip Green runs a British company, Topshop. He isn’t about to pack up and ship it over to Dubai never to be seen again, is he?
Topshop protest by Kellie Black.
So it was that on a cold Saturday morning I jumped out of bed and sped into the centre of town. I missed the first noisy influx into the store by a few minutes and the main entrance was already blocked by security. However, although I very rarely get sucked into Topshop these days, I know well that there are several entrances so I zipped straight in via the side door.
UK Uncut Topshop Protest by Alison Day.
Inside about thirty protestors were already staging a sit in, chanting as bemused shoppers gazed on, uncertain what to do. They were a mix bunch from different movements, including climate activists and peeved students. “Philip’s Green’s taxation could pay for our education” was but one of many clever chants I heard.
Within moments I was hustled straight back out the main entrance due to my very large camera, but I just went right back around and came back in with my iphone camera instead. Eventually I heard these magical words over the tanoy system: There has been an incident: please exit the store immediately. And so it was that we were able to close down the main branch of Topshop for well over an hour on a busy Saturday in the run up to Christmas. The sour faces of thwarted shoppers peered down at us as the streets got busier, but most of them seemed fairly content to visit Urban Outfitters next door instead. A gaggle of protestors then spread up and down Oxford Street, shutting Dorothy Perkins and BHS (both also part of Philip Green’s Arcadia empire) and revisiting Vodafone. In fact, just the threat of our arrival was enough to close most stores before we even got to them.
Outside BHS. Photograph by Sinister Pictures.
As I was twittering through the protest I received a reply from a small fashion brand that has a concession in Topshop – But what about the independent labels that are losing business? – she said. I do think that if you get into bed with a corporate brand you can expect to experience the pitfalls as well as the bonuses, but our quibbles are obviously not with the independent designers who stock Topshop (and at any rate in this case she definitely supported us) or the workers in the store, who may well have lost income if we had blocked the entrances more effectively and they had been told to go home.
One Woman Topshop protest 2010 by Abigail Daker.
It is very hard to protest without some unwanted fallout, which is why I so love this inspiring one woman protest: whilst we were causing mayhem at Oxford Circus Bryony went along to her local Wandsworth Topshop equipped only with flyers and chocolate, and on the purchase of a Breton top politely explained that she would not be able to pay the VAT because she didn’t trust Philip Green to give it the HMRC. She handed out information to the other customers and chocolates to the confused employees as they tried to accommodate her request by calling head office. What a clever way to raise awareness in a totally calm and collected manner, but the real success has been in the telling of the story – which has been bouncing around on the #UKuncut hashtag, attracting glowing comments from others who may well be inspired to do the same.
For naturally this story is far from over: the students are still revolting on the streets and UK Uncut have announced yet another day of action: this time I urge you to join them and protest against the greedy fat cat billionaires who are currently free to move the money we spend on their products out of this country and away from where it might be put to good use. On Saturday 18th December Topshop and Vodafone will be targeted in high streets across the UK. Find out all the details here.
Find out how fashion should be made and sold in my new book, Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration, featuring the very best in ethical fashion design.
#UKuncut, Abigail Daker, Alison Day, Arcadia, Avril Kelly, BHS, Billionaire, Brixton Pound, Con-Dem, Dorothy Perkins, hashtag, HMRC, Human Rights, Kate Moss, Kellie Black, My One Woman Topshop Protest, Oxford Circus, Ross Mcewan, Sir Philip Green, topshop, transition towns, twitter, UK Uncut, Urban Outfitters, Vodafone, Vodaphone
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