Oi Polloi’s Uncertain Status Paints a Concerning Picture of UK Retail

This article was originally posted on March 9, 2023 and updated on April 28

Everyone has their reasons for wanting to get into fashion. Whether that means working on the shop floor, training as a designer, or, like me, scribbling notes about nice clothes for a living, everyone has their afflatus.

Mine wasn’t a brand or a designer, though. It was Manchester-based retailer Oi Polloi which, according to reports published earlier this year, was set to close its doors after over two decades of trading.

News of Oi Polloi’s purported closure came less than two years after Oi Polloi was acquired by JD Sports and would’ve painted a sadly blunt picture of the current scene of United Kingdom retail, with recent headlines suggesting that as an average of fifty stores a day closed throughout 2022 — a 50 percent increase from the year prior.

However, after nearly two months with no word from either Oi Polloi or JD Sports (its parent company), the former finally clarified a few things in an Instagram post.

“Huge changes are on the horizon, some good, some not so much,” Oi Polloi said, before it confirmed the closure of its famous Manchester outpost. While JD Sports has confirmed it will retain control of Oi Polloi’s iconic Northern Quarter location, it has not expounded on future plans for the venue.

“No, Oi Polloi has not bit the dust,” the statement continued, before going on to explain that though Oi Polloi has gone “into hibernation for a bit … like a phoenix rising from the ashes of a torched public-use e-bike,” Oi Polloi expects to rise again.

Highsnobiety has reached out to an Oi Polloi representative for comment.

Founded by Nigel Lawson and Steve Sanderson in 2002, Oi Polloi worked its way from an IYKYK local boutique to the summit of UK menswear during its early years, not least for its experimental array of well-sourced and well-curated garments and accessories.

Unlike the majority of retailers at the time, Oi Polloi went by the ethos of simply stocking the gear it liked, which often meant it often looked more like a high-end camping store than it did a menswear outlet, which only added to its charm.

Simply, OP did things its own way. It wasn’t one for following trends, but instead subconsciously set them, something others retailers only aspired to do, yet OP seemed to do effortlessly.

From its once-weekly Deck~Out installments — where the staff would style some of the store’s latest garms paired with Oi Polloi’s typically tongue-in-cheek copy — to its weekly blog (which I’ve had the privilege to contribute to) and the myriad lookbooks captured within greasy kebab houses, fish and chip shops, psychedelic arcades and the like, OP was more than just a store.

It was honest, purist, and, most importantly, cool.

Even when Oi Polloi wasn’t selling great clothes, it was making them. OP’s eye for creating was just as impressive as its eye for buying, with its list of collaborators reading like a who’s who of menswear’s finest.

From Carhartt WIP, Mephisto, and BEAMS to adidas, Universal Works, and Fred Perry (to name only a few), there weren’t many labels that didn’t want to collaborate with OP. I see that as something of a role reversal from the status quo.

The news of Oi Polloi follows the closure of Leicester’s Wellgosh in early March, another recent JD Sports acquisition.

They don’t make them like OP anymore and, the sad truth is, they never will.


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