Let's get physical

21 Apr 2022

This week: Why IRL is back, baby.


Some said the pandemic would spell the end of in-person experiences. They had their reasons – and good ones at that — but like government leaders telling us coronavirus would disappear “like a miracle”, they were quite wrong.

• While physical spaces emptied out due to safety concerns and online spending increased 50% during the pandemic according to Forbes, it hasn’t yet meant the death knell of retail. “The mall is not dead,” consumer and retail expert Natalie Kotlyar told Yahoo Finance. In the last 12 months, foot traffic has been up in American malls as people have started easing back into the idea that personal force fields needn’t be an enduring feature of public life. And no lie: in the US, physical retail outpaced e-commerce in 2021.

• Turns out, we’ve learned to love the in-person interactions we’ve missed out on for the better part of two years even more. We’re talking about the sensory pleasures of brushing your hand across the structured canvas of a new summer shoe or the subtle sway of a fig tree that makes you say, this must be the one. “When you are engaging in an in-store experience, you just have more sensory inputs to deal with: You can touch, feel, smell, hear,” Chris Gray, a consumer psychologist, explained to The Atlantic. “It creates more memorable experiences.”

• That’s one of the reasons, Sowvital, a UK-based specialist brand of house plant fertilisers is opening up a new space with Appear Here this week. If you’re in the business of living things, creating a lively environment can be a matter of competitive edge. Online plant retailers seem to be sprouting up everywhere since we started treating our houseplants like children. But between shipping challenges and a crowded digital marketplace, setting your shop apart isn’t always sunshine and roses. Sowvital is betting big on charming people with a bit of human touch. Call it a green thumb. “This particular glass shopfront is spectacular, and resonates so well with our brand vision and identity,” Founder Jack Lewis told Appear Here. Their new space on Redchurch Street in Shoreditch will be filled to the brim with lots of greenery and atmospheric lighting, plus beautiful, touchable products.

Remember all that talk of skin hunger at the lonely height of lockdowns? (Gross terminology, but we’ll allow it.) Two years on, we’re still reeling from the discomfort of having been so very alone.


If there’s a cultural zeitgeist of the moment, it is living as large as humanly possible. Have you noticed that as our physical world grows more unstable (looking at you, climate change, economic uncertainty and political turmoil), the more virtual ideas like the metaverse and NFTs seem to gain traction?

We get it. Fantasies of escape are pretty appealing these days. But until we make like Elon Musk and launch ourselves into a new planetary existence, people are doubling down on all the earthly pleasures they can get their hands on.

• “Yes, you do deserve a little treat,” read one New York Times headline on how people are coping with the existential problems of the pandemic. From long midday walks to big-ticket luxury item purchases, enjoyment, it seems, has reached peak urgency. Trend reports on spending habits reflect this psychological shift, and may explain why luxury sales around the world are surging higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to Reuters. Retail therapy definitely won’t solve our problems, but that won’t stop people from trying to chase the nice feelings in-person shopping produces.

• Similarly, music festivals and experiential events are back with a vengeance. Coachella made a splash of a comeback last weekend, attracting 250,000 flower-crowned fans, according to the Guardian and a lift in fashion sales to boot, particularly in the fast-fashion segment (tut, tut), reports Business of Fashion. Buzzy DTC brands Parade and Recess experimented with in-person marketing events this year, signaling a return to experiential for small biz. The Recess popup in New York’s Nolita neighbourhood featured cans of the brand’s CBD-infused sparkling water as well as zines titled “The Recess Guide to Re-Entering Society.” “Everything we try and do is designed to bridge both digital and physical,” Recess founder and CEO Ben Witte told Morning Brew. “And I think that was a great manifestation of that, and created a good amount of buzz and earned media, and allowed us to gauge and sample with our core customer base in New York.”

• If you’re London-based and looking to get your treat on, consider having some champagne with your eggs. The Sunny Side Café just launched at our centrally located Greek Street space, and is open for indulgence. The concept was developed in partnership with Veuve Clicquot, purveyors of your favourite finest bubbly, and is an ode to the cultural institution that is the greasy spoon cafè — only way more decadent. Because the end of the world warrants a toast, don’t you think?

So pack away your winter coats and VR headsets because springtime — the season of birds and bees and corporeality— is officially here.

And treats. Don’t forget the treats.

Words by Nicola Pardy, a freelance writer and producer living in New York.