TWO Darlington independent clothes retailers have turned their mannequins back to front after feeling “let down” by the government during the second national lockdown.

independent fashion retailer Leggs and Geoffrey Gillows in Darlington have both turned their mannequins back to front in their shop windows in protest.

The idea was started by Naomi Walker, owner of womenswear independent Bombshell Betty Boutique in Garstang, Preston, and the idea was caught on by many other independent retailers across the country.

John Coxon, owner of Leggs, said: “We are an independent retailer here on Skinnergate and we are currently feeling very let down by the current lockdown restrictions.

“Several of the major chains are allowed to open and sell clothing like Sainsburys and Asda and M&S and Boyes, we do feel that the independent sector, the ones that specialise in clothing, have been singled out.

“I think we are an easy target, the smaller owners have less influence because we don’t have 100s of employees there’s only five of us here so we don’t have a great clout with the government.

“It’s part of a national effort, we’re part of the British Independent Retailers Association and I first saw the idea on one of their newsletters.

“We don’t feel that retail to way that we are operating and our relatively low level of footfall, we’re not like these big supermarkets that has a queue at the tills all the time, we don’t get a huge number of customers every day.

"we are able to be socially distanced and we have screens at the tills and as far as we are aware we haven’t had any infections since we reopened.

“I don’t think it’s helping the national effort to be closing shops like ours, and it’s certainly doing a great deal of harm to independent owners, particularly a busy time of the year in November.

“Supposedly we are all in this together, and as far as I’m aware the government are supposedly giving themselves a small pay rise.

“We are getting a lot of very supportive comments on our Facebook pages and we are endeavouring to do a certain amount of business on our social media channels and we’ve had a lot of support and we are doing some business through click and collect because we are allowed to do that.

“We’ve got a small amount of help from the council because we are shut and our staff are largely furloughed, but of course having been furloughed they are accepting a 20 per cent reduction in their wages, and so far the government haven’t accepted a 20 per cent reduction in theirs.

Bill Gillow, owner of Geoffrey Gillows, said: “Leggs and I both decided we would turn our models round the wrong way, I have asked other people to do in town but I don’t think they have.

The Northern Echo:

“It’s just our frustration because really there wouldn’t be any harm small shops opening, we have a very strict policy, we have around two or three people in the store at once and you walk down to Sainsburys which is 50 metres from my store and it’s rammed with people.

“They’ve also extended the clothes area so they’re selling what we sell, they’re selling toys and independent toy shops can’t open, they’re selling Christmas cards small shops selling them can’t open.

“It’s just not a level playing field, I know they have to draw a line somewhere and they have the same thing about Gyms.

“But it does seem ridiculous, we think we are a very small risk of infection in our area and stores and yet bigger stores are not.

“Someone told me yesterday that there is an M&S at Durham that was only food and now has a great big clothes section which is taking advantage of having a monopoly situation.

“We’re not selling the same brands but if people can buy something from the supermarket and it’s easier, they will.

“I think there is a demand because funnily enough I was on a zoom call and it went on for two hours, and I have shutters on my store but each morning I open them and turn on the lights so that people can window shop.

“I was thinking why am I doing this because the town is deserted, but having said that I was pleasantly surprised by how many people were looking in the window during my zoom call, two or three knocked on the window to ask how much something was.

“We do have a great and loyal clientele and that’s something that has struck me after the first lockdown that the first week we were back open lots of people came in to buy things to support us, they must feel that we are in danger and we need supporting otherwise we won’t be viable.

“This is like a protest because the government have seemed to forgotten, there’s a lot of talk of the hospitality industry and my heart does go out to them and bars and hotels, it’s desperate because they aren’t getting any business.

“But they do forget about us retailers because we invest massively in stock, we have to order our stock about a year ahead, so we order large stock levels, especially for autumn and winter, and so we have huge stock levels and obviously we aren’t open, so it’s just frustrating.

“I’m not online because the nature of my goods is that they are exclusive so usually I just have one size in something and it would be very difficult to do it online, but I have been advertising on social media.

“Funnily enough I’m currently packing up a mans windproof zip top that I’m sending to France, a guy saw my Facebook page and asked if I had a certain article in his size and could I send it to him and actually that’s the first garment that I’ve exported.

“I was talking to a customer of mine and she likes to buy nice quality coats from us and she said to me that she needed a coat because it was a cold day and I needed one so she just bought one from Sainsburys.

“In this lockdown I don’t think the governments going to do anything but I’d like to hope that if they’re contemplating more lockdowns I’d rather we were open because I don’t see that we are a major risk of spreading the virus because we wear masks, our customers wear masks and everyone hand sanitises and as far as I’m concerned in supermarkets there’s far more chance of the virus being spread in that situation.

“I would just like the government to have a bit more common sense and see what’s going on, I don’t want people to be deprived of shopping and if it’s a safe activity, which I believe it is, if we monitor It there’s often just about one person in the shop or we let two or three in maximum.

“If you ask customers, the vast majority of us would want us to be open.

“We can’t carry on, any of us, like this so we need to have a decent run up to Christmas and be open after us.”