Fashion’s Take on Brexit

Among all the hand-wringing about Britain voting to leave the European Union, a fairly robust chorus from non-financial industries such as fashion are warning of serious short and medium-term implications.

Potential impacts on fashion

With fashion exports of up to £9.1 billion in 2016, the pound’s decline since the Brexit vote is evidence of a more immediate impact. Any dent in consumer confidence is of no help, of course, and luxury fashion retailers forced to offset the falling value of the pound with increased prices will find certain customers unwilling to make up the difference. Increases in the cost of raw materials imported from Europe are felt by UK-based tailors who depend on those textiles. Still, our currency’s weakness has energised sales to tourists.

The likely restrictions on the free movement of labour will be felt keenly. The sort of studio and tailoring professionals who constitute such a major part of the UK-based fashion business come largely from elsewhere. ‘Many of the skilled workers who form the backbone of design studios are European and international citizens’ warns The Business of Fashion.

Threat to intellectual property

Legislation ensures that any 2D or 3D designs presented in the UK will be protected under copyright throughout Europe for three years, but post-Brexit such protections may be lost. In the interest of caution, designers may be forced to have their portfolio registered in the EU and the UK separately, which makes the prospect of London Fashion Week, an important date on the fashion calendar, an uncompetitive undertaking for some.

Potential benefits

Some fashion watchers hope a soft Brexit sees the UK adopt a status similar to that of Norway and Switzerland, maintaining most of the benefits of a single market and free labour movement. Properly negotiated, this will mean less upheaval.

A hard Brexit, however, will necessitate long and complicated rounds of talks with countries that provide textiles and finished garments. While negotiations with India have been positive, The Telegraph cited a report that should see exports soar ‘by cutting EU red tape’ with the right deal – the UK will have to hammer out the details of its trade relationships with China and Bangladesh, to name but two.

The Fashion Law cites supportive statements from the prime minister and the mayor of London while pointing to the industry’s creativity as a reason for looking on the bright side: ‘British fashion has a strong legacy within the framework of European and international design. Brexit does not change that.’ Global interest in British culture and made-in-Britain clothing persists, and while a weaker pound helps profitability (if only in the short term), the enduring attraction of our home-grown weavers, tailors and designers to outside purchasers bodes well.

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