How Emerging Designers Are Tackling Gentrification in London

How Emerging Designers Are Tackling Gentrification in London

London and New York are considered the creative hubs of the globe; they are also ranked the sixth and seventh most expensive cities in the world. Originally creatives clustered in the centres of the cities, in areas like Soho and the Downtown scene in New York. However, recently more and more creative individuals are moving to the outskirts of the cities, to developing areas like Brixton, Peckham or Brooklyn.

Creatives, myself included, are attracted to cheap rent and culturally rich areas that influence and inspire our desired careers. Unfortunately, where there is an influx of people, developers and the looming brutal hand of capitalism follows. The rent rises and the creatives are pushed out. Breaking this down to a technical term, we’re looking at the complicated issue of gentrification.

Gentrification is the process of renovating and improving an area so that it conforms to middle-class taste.

Regrettably, the process of gentrification is a double-edged sword. Gentrification undoubtedly brings jobs and money to the area, as well as more housing. However, the area seen as culturally rich and inspiring by creatives is deemed “a problem area” by developers, giving them the excuse to eradicate local communities. Instead of ‘developing’ the existing, as they should, taking into account the current residents’ needs, developers replace the current culture with aesthetics and infrastructure more appropriate to middle-class tastes; an issue I’ve personally coined as ‘cultural cosmetic surgery.’ Areas like Brixton and Peckham have begun to experience this. Their local councils, Southwark and Lambeth, desperate to attract income due to the onslaught of deep government cuts, is leasing sites to property developers who in turn build housing only affordable to the middle class.

So who’s to blame? According to general society and perception: creatives. When artisan coffee shops and pop-up stores appear the locals look to creatives as the culprits. You see, generally, creatives are innocent participants wanting simply to draw inspiration from the current culture. However, I have noticed that within my peer group there is a level of the expectancy of ‘cool.’ Creatives definitely have a level of entitlement when it comes to the areas they inhabit being ‘trendy’, leading to a lack of consideration for the impact on locals when developing businesses. You only have to look as far as Shoreditch to see evidence of this. They draw inspiration from the culture and add a price tag. Simply due to the fact that creatives need to make a living from this work and happen to be ‘on trend’, the prices are undeniably higher than what the locals can afford. Yes, creatives are just as harshly affected by the rise in the cost of living, but in order to counteract this, they take what they need from the local culture and monetise it. It’s a vicious circle. On a side note: does the expense of being a creative in these gentrified areas mean you ‘pull your shit together’ more quickly? I digress.  

Surely capitalism is the main culprit? Therefore, can creatives make a change in the issue of gentrification, or are they passive participants in an economic movement reducing creative outlets?

Daniel W.Fletcher is a political and culturally orientated fashion designer, whose collections have a deep personal connection. Fletcher made waves last year with his visual commentary on gentrification, with his “Peckham Pony” collection. This debut collection investigated the controversy surrounding Peckham, a historically poor area of South East London. The collection incorporated elements of British heritage clothing with contemporary streetwear to critique the socio-economical conflict of the area. Furthermore, the collection satirically commented on the more recent middle-class arrivals in Peckham, creating a fictional society sporting bonded leather outerwear and briefcases emblazoned with the signature ‘Peckham Pony Club’ appliqué. These act as symbols of middle-class background and private schooling, undoubtedly a commentary on the issue of gentrification.

Fletcher is not the only designer tackling the issue of gentrification. Karolyn Waddington, one of the talented designers featured at graduate fashion week from Northumbria University addressed this issue in an interesting manner, taking inspiration from the issues of homelessness and musing on another inspiration source; A$AP Rocky. The garments were covered in the slogan “When the Bubble Bursts” undoubtedly criticising the lack of press on the devastating effects of gentrification, which includes pushing local individuals out of their homes. It seemed to be a consistent theme throughout GFW as Jennifer Lowther also embraced the topic of gentrification, branding her clothing with a pattern that contained a much-needed message: “Have Some Balls.” The designer urged individuals to stand up for their creativity and protect their inspiration sources.

Daniel W.Fletcher

Taking note of this visual creative talent and being involved in the fashion industry myself, I would encourage more creatives to take charge of the culture in their areas and realise it’s not about imposing a new creative agenda but understanding they can mobilise a movement in an area. As Daniel W.Fletcher said, “It seems impossible to escape the feeling of cynicism and the disenchantment that reaches far past the world of fashion. Yet, despite all of this, it is more important than ever that young people rally together and continue to make their voices heard.” Otherwise, the industry will continue to lose talent and the chance of more creative collaboration to the outskirts of current creative hubs.


Written by Roisin O’Hare

Editorial Assistant

Visuals not owned by XXY Magazine

Daniel W.FletcherKarolyn WaddingtonDaniel W.FletcherDaniel.W.Fletcher