30 Years Of Shopping: How Have Norwich Outlets Changed?

Shopping in 2022 could not get any more accessible. Price ranges fit for all budgets scatter themselves around Norwich, and countless online shops have imprinted on our internet histories. In Concrete’s 1992 issue published October 28th, ‘Top Togs – Places to Shop and Places to be seen in’, the student perspective of Norwich’s shopping scene is similarly advantageous. Student staples Next and Topshop ruled the highstreets, while charity shops were slowly increasing in their appeal. M&S was your ‘Cardigan Paradise’, alongside Blue Jean Co., a reliable source of blue denim jeans – two items that are styled today as love letters to the 1990s. 

However, despite the prevalence of clothing shops, ‘Fine Clothes in a Fine City?’ questions the city’s variety of choices. ‘It is mainly chain stores and not very exciting,’ one student, Fiona Matthews, said regarding Norwich. There was a broad, overarching disappointment from various students at the lack of independent, yet student-friendly outlets – unlike in London, where Camden market is known for its subcultural influences.

Today, the shopping landscape is a little different. Midrange price shops like M&S and River Island remain in our highstreets and malls. However, Debenhams and Topshop have taken massive hits amid the coronavirus pandemic. ASOS bought Topshop in early 2021, and now functions exclusively as an online store.

Regardless of the increase in online shopping spurred by the pandemic, Norwich’s cobbled highstreets are not dead by any means. After coronavirus restrictions on indoor shopping lifted in April 2021, dozens queued outside Primark and made local headlines – anticipating the fast-fashion branch’s reopening. Shops like Primark and H&M continue to be affordable brands with the latest cuts and fits.

However, there are more eco-friendly ways to shop economically. The charity shops mentioned in ‘Top Togs’ – Oxfam, Cancer Research, and Sue Ryder – remain as the sustainable pillars of the Norwich shopping scene. The stigma towards charity shopping has faded in recent years, now young and old people alike flood into the Sue Ryder on a Saturday afternoon.

Since 1992, independent outlets have boomed. The Little Blue Company and Scarlet offer timeless styles that may go above a student budget. Although, boutiques such as Lady B Loves provide pieces suitable for a gift, cosplay, or Sunday best. The bright, nostalgic silhouettes and sui-generis patterns make a picnic out of window shopping. Even for a student, one of these statement pieces would be worth its money.

1992 saw the Castle Mall in the works. 20 years later, it now stands in the heart of the city as a weekend destination for families, couples, and students due to its variety of establishments. One remarkable store is New-U, a brand new, nonprofit outlet that promotes sustainable fashion consumption with its iconic ‘swap shop’. Customers swap their clothing for in-store items using their established point system. If you ever need a place to give your old, loved clothes, try New-U, and find something to update your wardrobe in the process.

Julie, 21, moved to Norwich from Hong Kong to study at UEA. She notes how the city has affected her shopping experience; “Here it feels less saturated than in Hong Kong and London, as there are more independent stores within reach. It’s more fairly priced and size-inclusive in my experience. I like that you have access to second-hand cheap stuff and still have the option to shop at high-end places too,”.

Therefore, we can conclude that a lot has changed in 30 years. Major chains have faltered, while independent outlets have flourished. Norwich continues as a city with a mishmash of styles and aesthetics. I only hope that it persists to breathe life into every student’s wardrobe – high-end, second-hand, eclectic, or mainstream.

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Zorsha Taylor Suich

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August 2022
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