How coffee saved brick-and-mortar clothing stores

clothing store coffee bar
  • Online shopping sales in 2022 are expected to surpass £140 billion in the UK alone
  • Clothing brands are increasingly incorporating coffee bars into retail locations
  • Brand alignment is the key to a successful partnership

STEPPING INTO the Carhartt WIP clothing store in King’s Cross, London, you’d be forgiven for thinking you had accidentally stumbled upon a specialty coffee shop.

The whirring of an espresso machine together with a menu featuring ‘long black’ and ‘flat white’ are not exactly what you expect as you browse racks of t-shirts and hoodies.

Yet this is just one of a number of locations in which fashion and coffee collide, bringing a unique experience to customers and driving sales for the respective brands.

It’s a global trend that emerged before the outbreak of Covid-19, but that has sped up since lockdowns around the world have eased. Allpress Espresso, the company behind Carhartt’s coffee bar, has recently expanded into partnerships with other clothing brands, including Patagonia and Biarritz.

Their in-store coffee bars are equipped with all the trappings of a dedicated coffee shop: grinder, espresso machine, milk frother, takeaway cups. The only difference is that you have the choice of sitting down, taking away – or taking a look at the latest clothing range.

“Coffee and fashion have always been synonymous,” says Ollie Simon, who works as UK communities manager for Allpress. “I think back to the 1950s and 60s, with the Italian posters of well-dressed people drinking coffee. They’ve always gone hand in hand.”

woman drinking a coffee in a clothing store

Adding value

Since the introduction of online shopping, brick-and-mortar sales have slowly eroded. In the UK, online retail sales have more than tripled over the last ten years, with figures expected to surpass £140 billion this year.

This is at the same time that a number of fashion retail behemoths, such as Top Shop and Debenhams, announced the closure of all physical stores.

To inject life back into the brick-and-mortar sector after nearly two years of lockdowns and social distancing measures, it’s widely acknowledged that brands need to offer more than just products. Coffee, a drink enjoyed by more than 150 million people in the US alone, is seen as an easy way to add value to the in-person shopping experience.

“I think online shopping is so prominent these days that coffee bars in shops are a way to add a little bit more of an experience rather than solely a product-focused journey,” Ollie explains.

“It can help slow things down, remove barriers, create conversations, and give stores an opportunity to engage with customers. You’re not going to go into a clothing store for coffee. But if you go in there it might mean you spend five minutes longer and look at three more items – and maybe one of those is a purchase.”

And it’s not just the clothing brands that are benefiting from these partnerships. Coffee companies such as Allpress have targeted the likes of Carhartt and Patagonia in recent years largely because it helps them reach new corners of the market and spread brand awareness.

“Coffee and café culture in general have always been a social, community-driven thing,” Ollie says. “So for clothes brands it’s an opportunity to create a community beyond just a transaction. For us, it’s hitting a new audience and putting our brand in front of different people.”

carhartt coffee

The importance of brand alignment

When Peet’s Coffee partnered with Capital One Finance Corporation, it was met with considerable backlash. Some claimed that Peet’s had “lost its soul” and “sold out”, while others suggested it was at odds with its usual relaxed atmosphere.

Although some retail partnerships will always provoke a reaction, the problem with Peet’s decision to team up with Capital One can be put down largely to brand misalignment.

Putting a bank and a coffee chain together was perhaps deemed too corporate for customers who would typically visit one of their coffee shops to unwind. But if Peet’s had partnered with a company more in keeping with its brand values, it’s unlikely it would have stirred such strong feelings.

“Every coffee company would align with different clothing brands,” Ollie says. “For example, some would work really well with high end brands, such as Gucci or Louis Vuitton, whereas we felt that Carhartt was better suited to how we wanted to represent ourselves.”

The other hurdle to overcome is how the coffee is served. In most cases, the ones preparing it are not baristas by trade, but rather someone who works at the store. As a result, the coffee company renounces a certain amount of control to the clothing brand.

That said, the benefits for both parties of serving coffee tend to outweigh the negatives.

“If you look at Selfridges or Harrods, you could spend a day there doing everything,” Ollie says. “So it’s quite nice for smaller places to offer that in some form. Coffee is an opportunity to surprise and create a little bit of community.”

*As of April 2022, the contract between Allpress and Carhartt has closed.