Hooked on fashion: how Label Hunters prop up the economy

A quarter of the population - most of them women - admit to being addicted to clothes shopping
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A new force is gathering on the high street. Mainly young and female, the Label Hunters leave no clothes rack unruffled in their quest for the latest look. And the contents of their designer shopping bags could determine the future health of the entire economy.

A new force is gathering on the high street. Mainly young and female, the Label Hunters leave no clothes rack unruffled in their quest for the latest look. And the contents of their designer shopping bags could determine the future health of the entire economy.

Nearly a quarter of the population now admits to being hooked on fashion, according to a new analysis of national shopping habits - even though psychologists warn that the addiction could damage consumers' mental health.

But if the emergence of the Label Hunters is good news for the ailing retail sector, the report from Mintel has some bad news too: most of us have little interest in fashion adverts or celebrities.

Instead, it seems, the high street fashion industry is in the hands of just 23 per cent of us - 33 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men - who, as the study puts it, "shop till they drop", driven by magazines and television style tips.

Richard Caines, a retail analyst with Mintel and the author of the report, said: "There's a comparatively small number of people who spend the largest share. They're the real fashion victims and the ones most influenced by the media. They're a really key group for the sector."

Only food is more important to British retailing than clothing, which accounts for £34.4bn of spending a year.

The Label Hunters are one of four separate shopping tribes identified in the study, alongside the Freewheelers, the Comfort-seekers and the Reluctant Shoppers.

The biggest group of clothes shoppers are the Freewheelers, making up 35 per cent of the market. Mostly in their 20s and 30s, Freewheelers are likely to be male, enjoy the shops but claim to ignore trends and make up their own look.

They are joined by the Comfort-seekers, a group that values price and durability over looks, and the High Street Averse, who shop only when absolutely necessary.

Of the four tribes, only the Label Hunters admit they are guided by television fashion shows, adverts and magazine style tips. The rest claim to be independently minded.

The research, based on a nationwide survey, concludes that Marks & Spencer remains the leading retailer for clothes, followed by Next, George (at Asda), Matalan and Debenhams. London and the North-west emerged as the most style-conscious regions.

Dr Tamira King, a retail analyst at Brunel University, said that for many shoppers, clothing can become dangerously important to self-image.

She warned about the risks of addictive shopping, saying it could be damaging. "Many people consider clothing their second skin, so they are highly motivated by labels and changing fashions.

"Also, these people can be as motivated by the actual shopping experience as by the items they are buying. It can become compulsive and is associated with negative behaviours and low self-esteem."

The serial shopper

'It's a force that's stronger than me'

Juliana De Angelis, a 28-year-old sales rep from west London, buys an item of clothing or jewellery every other day - and has a clearout every three months just to make space.

"I'm on the lookout for summer clothes and sandals," she said yesterday. "I've just spent £45 on a summer wrap top from Miss Sixty, and a pair of shoes from Fornarina, I think they cost about £80. I've got a lot better; I used to be buying something nearly every day. It's just this thing where I have to buy something."

Ms De Angelis, who owns more than 50 pairs of shoes, has amassed significant debts on store cards and credit cards, but "doesn't know or want to know" how big they are. Her other purchases this week include three dresses and two pairs of shoes from eBay. She is still bidding for three pairs of shoes and a top.

"My family are not happy with me at all," she shrugs. "When I go out and buy stuff I sneak in with my bags. It's a force stronger than me, and when it comes down to it I can't control it. Everybody has a vice - and mine is shopping."

The Reluctant Shopper

'I prefer to spend my money on gadgets'

Tom Wheeley, a 27-year-old software developer from Battersea, south London, dislikes shopping so much that his mother and girlfriend have to "press-gang" him into buying new clothes.

Yesterday, under duress, he was taken to the shops in central London. The results included a brown short-sleeved shirt and two T-shirts.

"One of them is orange," Mr Wheeley says. Other details have been forgotten, along with the experience, but he is fairly sure that the shopping was confined to Burtons, Fat Face and, "that one in between. I also bought two pairs of trousers, I think. They were about £30 each."

Mr Wheeley just doesn't enjoy the rigours of the high street. He wears trousers until they are "worn through and actually falling apart", and owns only three pairs of shoes: everyday shoes, interview shoes and clubbing shoes.

"Sometimes my girlfriend will grab me when I'm not looking and suddenly I'll find myself in a clothes shop with a T-shirt in my hand," he laughs.

"I don't mind it too much, but I really hate having to decide on something when I'm not sure if I like it or not. I'd prefer to spend my money on other stuff, like gadgets and beer.

"I just look for simple stuff, really - nothing special or designer, and nothing with big designer prints," he says.

"I'm not too fussed about labels. A T-shirt with a massive 'Moschino' on it would not appeal to me."

Interviews by Jonathan Thompson and Karen Hall

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