Putting the Primal in Primark

Image by twinkleboi.com on flickr
Image by twinkleboi.com on flickr

Yesterday I was in Ealing where a new Primark has opened. At first I didn’t realize this. I used to live in Ealing where there is a shopping centre which housed a library I would frequent. That library has since closed. When I first saw the huge crowd lounging on the benches in the centre of the outdoor mall I naively thought that maybe the library had opened again.

No one ever used that library. These people were here for Primark, which is a phenomenon. The clothes are dirt cheap– cheaper than most clothing in America, even. More recently the store has been upping its game style-wise, carrying runway inspired clothing with vintage prints and tailoring (if you can call it that). I admit I was very tempted by the 60’s print summer coats and the 80’s-40’s cocktail dresses, but shame won out.

I have never been a “saler”– someone who goes to sales to get a bargain on things they really don’t need. I have read about women fighting over things in sample sales, or adopting competitive shopping attitudes, and this behavior is encouraged in women’s magazines. There is something about the absurd prices in Primark– basically, you can afford EVERYTHING– that brings out a version of this behavior. Except that no one is really fighting with each other– it’s more a private fury. Shoppers wander the isles like mesmerized Augustus Gloops, filling their massive, Primark-provided mesh baskets with £2 tee shirts and £10 dresses.

If there is a true representation of London demographics it can be found in Primark, from the groups of muslim women in hijabs and chadors, Polish families, bored British teenagers and even white, middle-class mums with their heads down. The people leaving with huge bags are not poor– many are fashionistas who no doubt have closets full of clothing already.

Last month, Channel 4 cancelled the airing of the expose documentary, “The Devil Wears Primark” and one has to wonder what the claimed “editorial reasons” were. The opening of any Primark is an event. Could it be that Primark is so successful, that people seem to need this store so badly that they wouldn’t dare spoil the party?

Yesterday as I walked around the disheveled racks, dodging the aggressive, buggy-pushing mums and giggling teens, I saw a woman looking through the shoes while she breastfed her infant. In general I am not against breast feeding in public, but it is a bodily function and hey, the kid is still eating in a store. Does one really need to be shopping while doing this? But it must be the Primark spell cast on even a nursing mother. She of course doesn’t know about or can’t think too long on Primark’s history of child labor.

115 million children are trapped into forced labor in India. It has been documented that beaded clothing in Primark was sewn by children in refugee camps earning 60p a day. Rahila Gupta argues in the Guardian, “Maybe, as with messages on cigarette packets, we should pass legislation to ensure that every item produced in inhumane conditions comes with a warning.” Preferably the warning should be sewn on the outside of the garment.

I love clothing and fashion but it seems like every high street chain is guilty of sweat shop abuses, and this just affirms arguments bloggers like bitsandbobbins have been making, that the future of fashion is not in this cut-rate trend, but in using what you already have in new ways, making your own, and realizing that style is really a personal vision projected onto the self and the rest of the world.

5 thoughts on “Putting the Primal in Primark

  1. Regarding Channel 4 pulling the expose on Primark at the last minute, I read that Channel 4 had interviewed several Primark employees for the show and had not given them anonymity. Who’s to say how true that is though.

  2. I am 14 years old.
    ever since i was about 6, i had a hatred for primark. my english teacher has just recently asked us to write a essay on a subjuct that annoys us. im doing primark.
    I feel like i will get stabbed if i take the last sweater. the clerks need batons to stop them being rammed down.
    everything brakes within a week and it annoys me that people in india get paid 4 ruppes which is equal to about 60p a day. when you go in you feel like your in a cattle drive. about 95% of my schools population shops there!
    i get called a snob but i just have standeds on where i choose to shop.

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