It's the most-talked-about-new-shopping-mall-built-from-shipping-containers in London's history. Boxpark opens in Shoreditch tomorrow, bringing 'more than sixty carefully chosen fashion, arts and lifestyle brands' to the derelict land around the similarly blocky Shoreditch station.
The concept is simple and imaginative. Take 60 standard shipping containers, paint them black and arrange them into a small village of retail outlets. Then invite a few dozen brands 'packed with talent, innovation and attitude' to inhabit the units. Roger Wade, the brains behind the idea, is so confident of the scheme's success, he's now touting six to twelve additional Boxparks around London, with another ready for Christmas next year.
No question, Boxpark will be a success. Shoreditch's vibrant start-up, media and creative industries are awash with spending power, with no comparable shopping centre nearby. And the mix of outlets is impressive, at least by shopping mall standards. You won't find a Cybercandy in Westfield, for example.
Alongside retail, some of London's freshest food chains are also present and correct. Salad masters Chopp'd can do no wrong in our eyes, nor can juice bar Crussh. And it's great to see market favourite Pieminister dishing up in Shoreditch. Boxpark offers cheap and short-term rents to help these young companies get a foothold in a new part of town where the cost of hiring space is otherwise rocketing. Even charities such as Art Against Knives are on Boxpark's tenant list.
And yet this innovative mall is also something of a commercial Janus. On the one hand, it describes itself as 'a home that nurtures the smaller brands, the edgy and innovative round pegs that can’t afford and won’t fit in to the high street’s square holes'. On the other, you'll find units inhabited by the likes of Nike, Calvin Klein and Levi's. Some fear that offering cheap and risk-free beachheads to such companies might open the door for a big-brand influx, hiking the cost of living in the area even further. We'll see.
So a tentative 'welcome' to the experimental mall, with one eye on what it might presage.
All images by Chris Osburn.