It’s been almost a month since Britain officially left the European Union and we’re still standing, but industries are still left wondering, ‘What does this mean for us?’ In particular, the fashion industry has been constant in its opposition to the prospect of Brexit.
Like everyone else, the fashion industry has been bracing itself for more than three years. As an industry worth around £32bn to the UK’s GDP, it’s no surprise that, at best, the industry has been cautious at leaving the EU, at worst, appalled by the possibility. According to the British Council of Fashion (BFC), 90% of designers voted Remain, with just 4.3% saying they were voting leave. This indicates just how innately important Europe is viewed by our fashion industry, and thus, how acutely aware of the potential problems that could arise from leaving the EU they have been.
Designer Katherine Hamnett made her feelings clear almost immediately, following on from the referendum, releasing two t-shirts in defiance of Brexit – ‘Cancel Brexit’, and ‘Fashion Hates Brexit’. And on re-launching her brand, she set up in Italy to handle production and logistics, so as not to get caught up in any potential Brexit Red Tape. But is all of this just a cautionary tale, a precaution that may or may not be required?
What is possible is that without a European ‘safety-net’, tariffs could increase, which, in-turn, will affect the consumer and the price they pay for their clothing. In a climate where we are used to cheap fashion, an increase isn’t likely to be well received. Of the four fashion capitals, Paris, Milan, London and New York, three of these are in Europe. Movement between these three cities has been relatively easy, but as an ex-member, anyone travelling to the UK could expect long delays at the airports and visa requirements that could take weeks to organise. We’ll no longer be able to wait in the fast-track EU queue.
On the plus side, ‘Made in Britain’ clothing is experiencing a resurgence. Fashion Enter, based in Haringey, London, comprises of more than a hundred designers, cutters and stitchers, manufacturing womenswear for brands such as M&S, Asos and Matthew Williamson, and, since Brexit, Tesco and Arcadia have been knocking on its door. However, with over 50% of their employees from Eastern Europe, and the possible visa issues mentioned above, Brexit will still likely cause problems. Added to that, whilst it might be possible to manufacture fashion in this country, three quarters of the materials are imported into the UK. Along with £10bn worth of ready-made clothes and accessories being imported from across Europe, and over 10,000 British fashion industry staff from Europe, many continue to question Brexit’s eventual impact both overseas and here at home.
Let’s not forget, too, that fashion works far ahead of each season. For more than three years now, businesses will have been attempting to put cautionary measures in place but that’s difficult when you can’t be sure exactly what you should be doing. However, according to British Universities, EU students haven’t been deterred. Which is fortunate, because many of our great ‘British’ fashion designers are foreign. Look at Roksanda Illincic, Mary Katrantzou and Simone Rocha, all staples of the London catwalk scene, who have studied at British institutions and who we have taken on as one of our own. Optimistically, London College of Fashion (LFC) head, professor Frances Corner states that, “Brexit gives us an opportunity to ask what sort of fashionable future we want. Ideas and thoughts can’t be tied down to national boundaries, they will always break through.”
What is certain is that the uncertainty of when, or even if, we’d leave has been removed, paving way for more definitive decision-making. But there’s still a long way to go before we truly know how far-reaching the impact of Brexit will actually be.
About Our Author: Katie Calvert's background is in fashion and textiles with a first class honours degree in Fashion Communication and Promotion and experience in trend, PR and events. She decided to take the plunge back into education in 2015 to complete a Master of Arts in Multimedia Journalism. Using these newfound skills and her love of fashion and culture, Katie has been freelance writing for over a year.