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Could Brexit Destroy British Fashion?

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Shortly before the latest fully digital version London Fashion Week began on February 19 with a streamlined timeline reflecting the continued impact of the pandemic on the industry over 450 leading industry figures, including designers like Paul Smith, Katherine Hamnett and Roksanda Ilincic, sent a furious letter at 10 Downing Street.

In it, the signatories claimed that the new Brexit trade terms negotiated between the European Union and Britain could threaten the survival of hundreds of fashion companies ignored by the last-minute deal. Local industry, according to the letter, was potentially threatened with decimation thanks to Europe’s newly redesigned geography.

Fashion contributes more to Britain’s GDP than the fishing, music, film, pharmaceutical and automotive industries combined, says the letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson organized by the Roundtable on think tank fashion.

The deal with the EU presents a yawning hole where the promised free movement of goods and services for all creatives, including the fashion and textile sector, should be.

Even Samantha Cameron, wife of former Prime Minister David Cameron, the leader who organized the referendum in 2016 that resulted in Britain’s decision to leave the European Union in the first place, said in a BBC radio interview that his contemporary fashion brand, Cefinn, was hampered by post-Brexit startup issues.

If you bring product into the country from outside the UK and then try to resell it in Europe, Ms Cameron said, this is currently very difficult and difficult.

It is hardly surprising that the majority of the UK fashion industry continues to oppose Brexit. Over the past five years, local start-up brands, international luxury houses, top London design schools and rural textile producers had all worried about whether Britain would maintain its reputation as a creative and shopping center for fashion once Brexit took place.

More recently, last year, as the clock ticked towards the December 31 deadline, fears over the possibility of no deal grew, resulting in heavy new taxes on traded goods and goods. ports stranded at a time when the UK economy had already taken a hard hit. in the pandemic.

This scenario was avoided at the eleventh hour. But as Britain adjusts to its new position outside the bloc, a chorus of voices from across the fashion industry are expressing growing concern about the sequel.

Take John Horner, Managing Director of Models 1, a London-based modeling agency that represents Naomi Campbell and Lara Stone. For decades he booked models for catwalks or magazine shoots overseas on less than a day’s notice, with at least a quarter of all income generated from European jobs. But free movement between Britain and the EU ended on January 1, leading to new visa requirements. Mr. Horner believes the added layer of paperwork and costs will have a dramatic impact on business.

Models now need one of the 27 visas to go to work in European countries, it will be an ongoing administrative nightmare, Mr Horner said, noting that Britain’s creative industries were banding together to pressure the government to ‘he negotiates visa-free work agreements for artists and professionals. I also think I see a number of international actors bypassing London as a location for filming and doing business, opting instead for European cities.

According to industry organization Walpole, 42% of all British luxury goods are exported to the EU. Now UK fashion brands are grappling with mountains of new customs and tax procedures, where one improperly ticked box or pen stroke can lead to time-consuming delays or fines.

Jamie Gill, managing director of Roksanda, said that the fact that the deal was reached in the dying moments of 2020 meant that anyone with little time to adjust to bureaucratic hurdles and unusual sanctions, from employees of the brand based in Great Britain to their small suppliers and artisan manufacturers in Europe.

There is so much learning new rules to be done on the job, both for us and for the big logistics partners like FedEx and DHL, Mr. Gill said. There are currently delays in all respects, everyone is wrong and it costs time and money. The industry breathed a sigh of relief when no deal was bypassed and we kept tariffs zero. But the pandemic means it’s pretty tough there, and every brand wants to buy products in stores and online whenever they can.

Last week, the British Fashion Council, the industry lobbying body, said it was in live and ongoing discussions with government officials over travel restrictions and working with designers and brands to help them familiarize themselves with the paperwork and understand customs regulations. rules of origin for products.

Not to mention import issues. Many EU consumers who purchase products from the websites of UK-based fashion retailers are issued customs and tax bills of 20% or more of the cost of goods, and UK customers who buy from the EU are also hit with additional bills.

Adam mansell, the boss of the UK Fashion & Textile Association, warned that it is currently cheaper for retailers to write off the cost of products than to deal with everything, ditching them or potentially burning them down. Lots of big companies don’t have control, let alone the smaller ones.

Another big blow to many fashion brands and retailers is the UK government’s decision to end the retail export program on January 1. The program, which allowed international visitors to claim 20% of the value-added tax on their purchases, had long enabled wealthy foreign tourists. for expensive, duty-free shopping in Britain. Now luxury gamers like Burberry, Harrods and the Oxfordshire Bicester Village shopping center believe the new laws will reduce Britain’s attractiveness as a luxury shopping destination when such a lure is needed most.

In December, 17 luxury and retail companies estimated that £ 1 billion of planned investment in infrastructure such as store expansions and distribution centers would be lost due to falling demand as shoppers would be heading elsewhere, an impact that would be felt by ordinary Brits, not just luxury marquee names.

It is wrong to view this as a problem which only affects the West End; over 500 million duty-free shops are located in the region, including Manchester, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Glasgow and Liverpool, said James Lambert, vice president of Value Retail, owner of Bicester Village. The mall, designed to resemble a small town where locals include Burberry, Gucci and Dior, has become one of Britain’s most popular tourist hot spots.

The ramifications will be felt throughout the retail and hospitality industry supply chain across the UK, Lambert said.

Yet not all businesses are this pessimistic. While some British silk and the yarn suppliers said feedback from their European customers was that they would buy from European suppliers rather than accept the additional expense and hassle, Brian Wilson of fabric maker Harris Tweed Hebrides said barriers to short term was nothing that could not be overcome.

We are not in the same position as grocers or those with perishable stocks who are clearly going through a terrible time, he said.

Harris tweed is a tough, weather-resistant fabric, hand-woven by the people of the Hebrides into their homes. While 14% of the fabric is exported to fashion manufacturers in Europe, Wilson said the US, Korean and Japanese markets remain strong and trade with those countries has remained stable, minimizing the Brexit disruption.

The Cabinet Office, which, as of February 19 had yet to formally respond to the Fashion Roundtable’s letter, said it offered hotlines, webinars and business support to those in the fashion industry. However, for businesses already under pressure from ongoing lockdowns and a year of pandemic, that may not be enough.

Katherine Hamnett, the veteran fashion designer long known for her clear speech, summed it up for her peers.

If there is no radical overhaul, she says, British brands will die.



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