tips & guides

Big companies vs Small brands – Reasons to shop small



Consumers are beginning to question the morality of shopping with retail giants and turning to small businesses for a more guilt-free retail experience. Large companies are being exposed due to their lack of transparency within supply chains, reports of abused workers rights and the general negative effects of mass production on the environment.

So before we begin: what constitutes a big or small company? Factors that can determine a company’s size are relative to things such as the number of employees or the scale of which the business is operating.



In the UK, the definition of an SME (Small and Medium Enterprise) is a company that employs between 0-249 people. This definition can differ worldwide, for example, in the US, a small business is classified when employing 500 or fewer employees.

At the beginning of 2019, there were 5.9 million SMEs in the UK and within that, 95% of those were micro-businesses that employ between 0-10 people. For example here at The Emperor’s Old Clothes, we have a constant circulation of approx ten employees which often includes a member of our traineeship program.

In the UK SMEs make up 99% of all private companies in which 17% of these are either female-owned or have a female majority team! Not only this but, according to research published by the House of Commons Library, female-run small businesses have been estimated to contribute around £85 billion into the economy.


Big businesses are classed as those that operate on a significantly larger scale, in terms of market, profit, quantity and rate of production – “an economic group consisting of large profit-making corporations especially with regard to their influence on social or political policy.”  In the UK there are 8000 recorded ‘big businesses’ in which 250 people or more are employed constituting for 0.1% of all businesses in the UK as well as being responsible for providing 40% of employment.


Listed below are just a few factors as to why it is important to shop small:


By contributing to just over half of the UK business turnover (a figure that is on the rise), SMEs are integral to the growth of the UK economy. It has been found that for every £1.00 that is spent in a small business, 63p of that is deposited back into the local economy!

In regards to the retail sector specifically: small fashion/retail businesses that operate in the UK, total to just less than 10% of all small businesses whilst generating 33.7% of turnover made by all industries as a whole. Not only do they open up job opportunities within local communities, but SMEs also contribute to driving commerce to the surrounding small business owners.


Positive working environments are more likely to be prioritised in smaller businesses, due to the insular nature of the working environment which generally causes for closer relationships between team members. In larger companies, more defined hierarchies are put in place in which communication can be lost between management and staff.

According to the findings from the 2013 Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) survey, skilled workers are more likely to be recognised within smaller teams as it was discovered that 49% of SME owners in the UK already pay staff a minimum of the Living Wage. Here at Emperor’s, as manufacturers of ethical clothing, we are proud to be one of the 500+ UK living wage employers in Brighton!

Large fast fashion companies are renowned for using cheap labour to manufacture garments at an increased rate in order to satisfy the mass market. With around 40 million garment workers in the world, each of these individuals will more than likely experience a level of mistreatment whether that’s low wages, poor working conditions, subject to physical abuse and human trafficking. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, workers are more vulnerable than ever and are not being protected and supported by their employers.


Smaller operations tend to prioritise sustainability within business plans due to supply chains being less complex and more manageable than large companies.

SMEs are finding ways to be kinder to the planet by going paperless, eradicating offices and enforcing mobile working as well as collaborating with other companies that offer sustainable packaging. For example, here at Emperor’s not only do we produce environmentally friendly clothing, we also enforce a zero fabric waste policy and have recently partnered with Repack which provides a circular packaging option to customers when they order from us online – you can find out more over on our RePack blog post.

Larger retail companies produce garments at a colossal rate in order to satisfy investors financial targets and the mass market. Fast-fashion giant, H&M has experienced the repercussions of over-production after recently being exposed for their £4 billion inventory issue. This is a prime example of corporate businesses prioritising profit over the livelihood of the people involved in relentless supply chains and the negative impact on the environment – the opposite of slow fashion practices.


Small businesses work with their customers to provide a more tailored service or unique retail experience in order to achieve a solid reputation. Whether this means targeting a more diverse market or being more inclusive of a wider demographic in terms of size, skin colour, ability and economic background.

We pride ourselves on communicating with our audience and welcoming customer feedback in order to sustain the quality of our service at The Emperor’s Old Clothes. Whether this is through Instagram polls, personal DMs or product reviews, it is important for us to be constantly evolving as a company to sustain the quality of our service and produce the most responsible clothing we can with our limited resources.


Especially during the context of COVID-19, it is crucial to support small and local businesses as they simply cannot survive without the support of its customers. At Emperor’s, we value each and every one of our customers that can offer support where they can whether that’s following and sharing us on social media or ordering ready to wear or design your own sustainable clothing.

As consumers, we can work together to shift the power of exploitative big businesses into the hands of responsible small business owners. A simple mindset to adapt is before you make any type of purchase, try and source the same or similar product from a small or independent company rather than a large brand!

Help others discover more independent labels by commenting below 5 of your favourite small businesses.

Written by Cressida Drummond-Hill, Marketing Assistant; edited by Cecily Blondel, Owner

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