US fashion designer Michael Kors is opening a shop in Belfast’s Victoria Square Shopping Centre – just as record-low inflation leaves consumers with more cash to spend.
Not since Elvis was in the charts has our disposable income stretched so far, and with the improved spending power comes the prospect of indulging one of our favourite pastimes: shopping.
The New York label with a familiar MK monogram has become a popular appendage hanging from fashionistas’ handbags and emblazoned across their wristwatches.
The city centre fashion and accessories store will be its second in Ireland, following their debut venture in Dublin.
Criona Collins, director of retail at Lambert Smith Hampton, said new investments reflected a wider, upward trend in consumer confidence as well as a vote of confidence in Northern Ireland itself.
“After everything we’ve gone through here, in terms of the worst recession and our own internal turmoil in Northern Ireland, we are seeing the first glimmers of hope and retailers being encouraged to invest here,” Ms Collins said.
She described the recent investments by the likes of Swarovski jewellers, YO! Sushi restaurant and Goldsmith’s Boutique in Victoria Square as a “reflection of the optimism in the marketplace”.
“It’s a really good barometer because two or three years ago we wouldn’t have been in such a comfortable position for them, when there was still too much fragility in the market.
“Now that there’s been a period of stability, and with inflation rates remaining low, this is a sign of growing optimism. There’s still a bit of fragility but growth is slow and steady and safe and not spiralling out of control,” she said.
Karise Hutchinson, head of the enterprise and business department at the University of Ulster, said shrewd retailers like Michael Kors knew their customers also had high expectations.
“It is no longer purely a transactional experience, but consumers expect an inspirational and motivational experience.”
Belfast FashionWeek director Cathy Martin also welcomed the news of Michael Kors’ impending arrival but said existing suppliers could be affected by the move.
“Any addition to the fashion landscape is always a good thing in terms of customer choice,” she said. “We do already have a number of independently-owned stores who stock Michael Kors products, so I am sorry for them that this store will offer competition, but there are always new brands and designers’ collections to source to keep the offer fresh for everyone.”
News of Victoria Square’s new tenant comes after shopping footfall here fell 2.4% in January.