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After Brexit, can the little ones be beautiful for British fashion brands?

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After Brexit, the road ahead seems more difficult for independent luxury brands in the UK. One solution may be for small businesses to take greater advantage of local supply chains and market authenticity closer to home, responding to a change in mood among young consumers, many of whom appreciate brands that reflect their values.

Being forced to spend time closer to home has made people want to support local labels and the designers they think represent them, says Katie Baron, director of brand engagement at the trends intelligence agency Style. It creates an appreciation for brands big and small that can communicate on a much more micro level.

The separation of the UK from Europe poses a huge challenge for UK based SMEs. Almost three-quarters of UK fashion and textile exports go to the EU, representing around $ 9.6 billion in trade, according to the UK Fashion and Textile Association. In 2018, 99.7% of fashion and textile companies were identified as SMEs, employing less than 250 people, according to the National Statistics Office. Brexit compounds the challenges of the ongoing pandemic. While the UK-EU trade deal may have dealt a milder blow to trade than a so-called hard Brexit, additional red tape is now a reality.

Promote sustainability, close production

The hope is that the flexibility of small businesses can benefit small fashion brands if they quickly readjust. Small can still be beautiful, especially as the mindset of consumers changes. In response to eco-anxiety and working from home, consumers may be more inclined to connect with local brands and authentic stories from compelling founders, according to McKinsey.

As sustainability becomes more important to consumers, smaller brands are well positioned to promote onshore production as an attractive value proposition. Customers want to know where their clothes were made, and I’ve found them interested in behind-the-scenes content, says Hope Macaulay, eponymous fashion founder. Mark based in Northern Ireland. Hope Macaulay manufactures all of her products in Northern Ireland with 15 local seamstresses. More and more, customers are realizing the importance of buying sustainably, says the designer.

Hope Macaulay manufactures all of its products in Northern Ireland.

© Hope Macaulay

In December, the brand highlighted its local engagement with an Instagram post called Meet the Knitters that received five to six times the usual engagement, Macaulay says. And customers have shown they are willing to wait longer for delivery, she adds.

SMEs also tend to be closer to their customers and are able to respond quickly to their needs. Radical customer orientation is a key factor in the success of independent luxury brands, said Daniel Langer, CEO of the luxury branding and lifestyle company, and professor of luxury strategy at Pepperdine University in California. This includes loyalty based on values ​​and experience, rather than promotions. Customer focus requires supporting customers for the long haul, understanding their needs and delivering superior experiences, he says.

Especially in times of change and uncertainty, consumers look for brands that inspire them, says Langer. The brands that have performed the best in recent months are those that have aroused desire. More importantly, it doesn’t stop at the product level, but requires a focus on creating an experience of extreme value for customers.

After Brexit, consumers are looking for brands that produce locally.

© Arabella London

This customer focus is reflected in the approach of London-based brand Boujo Hake, which sells fully sustainable, waste-free underwear and luxury basics through its website. The company maintains close relationships with its core clientele and even offers personalized accommodations for local clients. As a small business we’ve been able to really engage on an individual level with our customers, which is a privilege and gives us valuable insight, insists co-founder Kathrin Hake.

Clear information is essential. Customers who want more transparency are nothing very new, Hake says. But now we feel an increased desire to understand what it really means to produce, from start to finish, and the real costs associated with production.

Empathy with the customer

The close relationship with customers will remain a key strategy for successful brands during the pandemic and in the post-Brexit period, says Dr Fabio Duma, President of the luxury association Orbis Excellentiae and luxury researcher, consultant and speaker at Zurich University of Applied Sciences. Sciences. Brands that have shifted focus to support the community, target local customers, and empathize with their audience have seen the biggest gains, he says.

The co-founders of Tove Studio, Camille Perry and Holly Wright.

© Tove Studio

The leaders of the brand agree. During the pandemic, our priority was to stay connected to our community, says Camille Perry, co-founder of contemporary women’s clothing brand Tove Studio. During the first lockdown, the brand sought to lower the priority of sales and help the community, including hosting an archive sale with proceeds going to the charity Womens Aid, an initiative that also generated a lot of feedback. positive for the brand.

Lessons for SMEs are about dexterity and empathy. Independent luxury brands that pivot in response to their customers and adapt quickly to changing times can look to the future with more confidence. Our size and dexterity have been a major asset during the pandemic, Perry says. This has allowed us to remain agile, act organically and be in direct communication with our audience. We are able to get closer to our client and our community.

Learn more about this topic:

Small fashion brands fight Brexit costs

Brexit Realities: From Higher Costs to Delays

Can emerging fashion brands develop sustainable initiatives?

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