Last month I was treated to a preview of the new Me. By Me. campaign for TK Maxx in their Covent Garden store in London. It was a really colourful, upbeat party with smiling faces everywhere, the vibe reflecting the positive, sunny energy of the campaign. Have you seen the TV adverts? They feature real people, actual TK Maxx customers who are not professional models. An endearing self-consciousness is detectable and the message promoting unique personal style rings true. It's a refreshing concept as it's just so rare. Models act like models, they're never meant to come off as real people, and the Me.by.Me. campaign shows that some genuine character over the copycat, aspirational approach to selling fashion can be very motivating. Rather than seeing a model who has impossible legs, and impossible skin, and impossible hair and buying the clothes or bag she's wearing as a means of trying to get closer to that image, Me. By Me. gives us people of all ages whose personalities shine through the outfits and make us feel that we can look great as we are, that we've already got the whole package and hey, a few new bits will help us express ourselves and make us feel really good.
This is the full advert for the TK Maxx Me. By Me. campaign:
It holds your attention all the way through, doesn't it? I love it.
So who are these real people? TK Maxx chose eight UK shoppers to help represent the brand and inspire others to celebrate the wonderful things that make them unique. They joined a diverse group of 12 TK Maxx real-life customers plucked from obscurity whilst browsing in stores spanning the UK, Ireland, Poland and Germany. They were taken on a trip of a lifetime to Cape Town, South Africa, where for 10 days they were encouraged to experiment with style and take part in a series of fun and experimental activities to help unlock their Me. By Me. mind-set. With no scripts or storyboards, the cast were given free rein to shape the direction of the campaign and experiment with a wide choice of clothing and accessories from stores to create their defining looks.
Below are some of the TK Maxx customers from the advert, all from the UK. From top left is 82-year-old photographer Martin Gordon from London who doesn’t plan to ever retire; Pia Sarkar, a 25-year-old student and lover of 50s music and bright lipstick from Brixton; 62-year-old Olga spotted in London, who fabulously models TK Maxx’s swimwear; and Justina Bailey, a 28-year-old a graphic designer and self-confessed creative nerd with a quirky dress sense from London:
In the spirit of uniqueness, some of the great food and drink we were treated to at the Me. By Me. party at the Covent Garden TK Maxx:
You might be wondering why I have such a rabid enthusiasm for the project. Yes, the advert is a joy to watch and puts a feeling of summer in my head. But I'm so excited about it all because it's not empty marketing smoke and mirrors; the concept of celebrating individual style follows through into real life in my own city of Newcastle. At the event for the opening of the campaign, we were given gift cards so we could pick out some clothes and put together outfits we like for ourselves. I had to run off for my train so I didn't have time to look through the Covent Garden store and would have to do my shopping locally when I got back. I'll be honest, I was a bit deflated not being able to do it in London, assuming that the selection at home would pale in comparison. Little did I know that the TK Maxx in Newcastle had moved amidst renovations to the mall where it was originally located, to a massive new space on Northumberland Street which now had a whole new look and a serious commitment to fashion. I found the new store and when I came off the escalator I noticed on my right a section marked 'Gold Label', and I was hoping this was what I thought it was. And yes, it was a high-end designer section and I couldn't believe what was there. I'm not going to name names because each store varies in what they receive - and therefore worth checking regularly - but I'm talking 'fashion week' brands. Big ones. You know them and you want them, and here were those otherwise unattainable items - at massive discounts! The pile on my arm started to grow higher and higher, and then on my way to the fitting rooms I found a ton of really cool plaid flannels - I love how they were grouped together and required no rummaging - and I barely made it on in without my arms collapsing.
Most importantly, the shopping experience at TK Maxx is one that really does leave your choices up to you. As you walk into the store you may notice, or not, that there are no styled mannequins in the window or on the floor. No signage showing willowy young models in dreamy fashionland to unwittingly emulate. No dictating how you should look this season, no obvious trends packaged up to lead you into buy something that's not really you. The racks are quite electic yet cohesive as they are grouped by type of garment while representing a vast array of brands and - current - styles, and what stands out and comes into the fitting room with you will be something you already know you like. I looked through the racks for all the 'me' clothes and found tons. See - Me. By Me. It works!
At the Me. By Me. launch we were treated to a chat with Carolyn Mair (right), a renowned cognitive psychologist in the UK. With a keen interest in fashion psychology, she is developing the first MA Psychology in the Fashion Industries and MSc Psychology in the Fashion Industries programmes which will run at The London College of Fashion from September 2014. Carolyn will focus on the importance of psychology in fashion and help students to gain an understanding of human behaviour in a fashion context. We had a fascinating discussion about the impact our clothes have on how we feel about ourselves and I would have loved to talk to her all night, she's so lovely and insightful.
I found success with most of the clothes I took into the fitting room (we had to separate my bounty into two groupings) but decided to take home a pair of jeans from one of today's most popular jean brands, they're skinny and a turquoisy teal (I cannot have enough blue skinny jeans); I'm wearing them as I write this, they're so comfortable and fit perfectly. I also got two 'going out' tops because although I'm not out constantly I do find I'm lacking in clothes that are suitable for a night on the 'toon' (that's Geordie speak). But as I'm Canadian and not a Geordie I'm much more casual (ok that's not fair, there are casual Geordies, my friends don't even own sparkly tops and dresses); however, you don't want to be so casual that you look like you're not out for fun. These two tops are perfect for my subtle going out style. I was just under the amout of the gift card when I made my way to the cash with my three items, and then I saw some high-end designer activewear and my eyes fixated on a really great jacket in shades of grey and a mix of fabrics, it was right in line with the activewear I've been oggling from New York Fashion Week. I scooped one up and tried it on in the queue and added it to the pile. (I'm also wearing that right now, it's so comfy and will come in handy for a lot more than going to the gym.)
In the end, my four items totalled £128. The RRP was several times that so I was totally thrilled, a big bonus on top of having new clothes that I really loved and work for me.
I'm so glad I was asked to be a part of this with TK Maxx. I do almost 100% of my clothes shopping online because of convenience and selection, but after this experience I knew I'd be checking back in regularly to see what gems have arrived before I do any clicking - a typical store has over 50,000 in stock and receives 10,000 new pieces every week. That's another thing - TK Maxx has brought in brands we wouldn't otherwise have in Newcastle. We only have a few high end shops, I think you could actually count them all on one hand (and maybe even have a thumb left over), and they only carry certain brands. But it's not just about finding high-end gems; the entire floor is stocked with desirable clothes from all price points. I love the surprise of finding which designers will appear next, and discovering new labels in other areas of the store. And not forgetting the cherry on top - saving money! And I have to mention that the racks were very neat (no mess like you tend to find on the high street) and the fitting rooms were very clean as well, not strewn with discarded clothes and hangers. And the selection was simply fantastic. Newcastle needed this. Did I mention I'm impressed and I can't wait to get back? (Well since originally writing this draft I have been back. Last weekend I took a friend who was visiting and needed jeans, and she found the perfect pair plus some tops. And I found the perfect replacement to a raincoat I no longer like because my style has changed - my old one has a bow in the back and I don't do those anymore. My new find is more utilitarian and just so cool that I actually don't mind if it rains now. Almost.)
You know what? I've yet to make my way to the second level to browse the housewares. This adventure is just beginning....