By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic
All this talk of the high street demise seems rather perverse walking along the streets of Shoreditch. The pop-up shops selling locally sourced produce and the wealth of arts and crafts ventures that litter the street are a massive f**k off to multinationals, demonstrating that with a bit of intuition local shops can thrive. But even Shoreditch, in all its hipster glory, seems to be changing.
At the heart of Shoreditch, arguably more so than anywhere else in London, is an innate desire to be different. Along with Camden, Brixton and Shepherds Bush it is one of the capital’s many extramural suburbs (i.e, exists outside the walls) that managed to retain an identity as well as being part of the robust growth in London. With a vibrant multicultural population its streets have been subject to a wealth of cultural influences which have shaped it into the place it is today, a hub of rebelliousness that has manifested itself across the buildings and people that occupy the East End.
But of late there has been a wave of ‘new normal’ businesses occupying the inner city district that fall in line with prophesies that, in trying desperately hard to be different, Shoreditch is starting to look the same. Telegraph journalist Alex Proud observed earlier this year that “the global tribe of urban 20- and 30-somethings who, in their quest to be different, have wound up virtually identical”, and I would reluctantly agree.
Of course there’s no points for quoting a Torygraph journo in a critique of Shoreditch, but there is something to be said of the more general boom in corporations dressed up like pop ups, large scale brewers being dressed up as microbrewies and the same ‘niche’ eateries being found on every corner. In London and increasingly throughout the rest of the UK there is big appeal for localism and many of the ideals upon which Shoreditch was reinvented in the 21st century. But in wanting to be different, Shoreditch has become a brand, and with the brand will come a new generation of ‘gentrified hipsters’.
Take a look at the most notable new ventures. Brew Dog, despite hailing from Scotland, is a ‘Shoreditched’ brand that has helped make craft beer fashionable and is now reaping the corporate rewards of mainstreamism that follows. Their Shoreditch bar is heavily branded, rather plush and essentially wraps the old rebelliousness of the borough into a more accessible and trendy package. Camden Brewery has packaged localism in similar vein and has enjoyed remarkable growth as a result, both modelled in a heavily diluted image of these once super different districts.
But it’s not just about remarketing Shoreditch as we once knew it, there’s a host of new businesses setting up shop that project Shoreditch as it will become. Former CEO of Tech City, Ben Southworth, has started a campaign group under the strapline Keep Tech City Weird in response to what he feels is an invasion of the hipster district by dot com start-ups which prefer flashy luxury apartments instead of creative workspaces. Charles Armstrong, chief exec of The Trampery, told The Capitalist: “During the upgrading of the area we could start to see inappropriate developments which will be alien to the environment. London needs to maintain diversity, Shoreditch could end up looking like the City.”
It’s a valid concern that changing the face of Shoreditch could start from the outside in, but realistically the biggest threat is from the inside. London’s first e-cigarette coffee shop recently opened its doors on the high street not two minutes from the UK’s first Bitcoin ATM as well as London’s first pay-per-minute café. Research has also shown that London’s next hotel boom is underway in what SKIFT described as the “trendy neighbourhood” of Shoreditch as West Enders move East. The hotels will be well stocked with coffee from ‘Square Mile Coffee Roasters’ and adequately equipped with new fresh juice brands, as well as a healthy sampling of BrewDog.
As Charles Uzzell Edwards told SKIFT, it’s developments such as this that show Shoreditch has “probably peaked to the point where it’s so incredibly, crushingly, hip that the hipsters are denying that it’s hip.” At £159 a night there’s unlikely to be many of Shoreditch’s original revellers turning up for the party.