Fashion Post Brexit
by Maximilian Raynor
all facts and figures correct on 26th July 2018
“…I look for the UK to maintain its diverse, welcoming, ‘melting-pot’ nature, regardless of the deal May’s government does or does not come to… we can and must remain an eclectic, multifaceted haven to nurture young creatives…”
Since the referendum of June 2016 we have lived in a climate of profound uncertainty. The 66 billion pound British Fashion industry must maintain a crucial position in the conversation around the deal-making process, as concern amongst creatives continues to intensify. Many within the British Fashion industry fear Brexit sends the wrong message internationally, whereby a nation once perceived as THE pinnacle of diversity- a melting pot for international designers, photographers, stylists, models etc. – is turning towards a separatist mentality and a rejection of the freedoms once enjoyed by an assortment of people from across Europe. Simultaneously, when approaching the matter pragmatically, for reasons ranging from EU Intellectual Property Rights to tariffs on international trade, we see that Brexit could negatively influence the fashion scene, and those working within it.
Concern surrounding the freedom of movement of talent from EU nations arises, with Fashion the fourth-highest employer of EU nationals within the creative industries. Under the ruling of the ECJ (European Court of Justice) as part of the Single Market, nationals of the EU have previously enjoyed free movement between EU member states, along with goods, services and capital. Leaving the EU without a deal that procures our continued membership of the Single Market, puts this free movement at risk.
The Fashion Industry relies on this freedom of people in three key ways, firstly in regards to manufacturing talent. Of the 13,500 workers making fashion products in the UK, around 70% are Europeans. These professionals offer valuable skills to design houses, which cannot be found domestically. Without their ability to move easily to work, design houses may consider moving elsewhere, taking their contribution to the UK economy with them. Secondly the Fashion industry benefits from this freedom of movement in regards to freelance workers. We rely on creative professionals’ last minute signing-on to short-notice projects. The time-consuming admin and additional restrictions that could come with our departure from the EU, is not only vastly out of kilter with the fast-pace nature of the fashion world, but also reduces the already limited supply of paid work to international creatives, hoping to profit from working in a global fashion capital like London. Thirdly we must consider the profound impact this lack of freedom could have on designers. A huge amount of the designers that show at London Fashion Week, have used EU privileges to study in the UK, and ended up setting up business here. The UK holds the best fashion schools in the world, with Central Saint Martins, Kingston School of Art and Westminster, to name three. International young designers gravitate towards our fashion capital and enrich their environments with the more diverse level of experience and inspiration they bring with them. With the UK outside of the EU, and without some alternative reformation to course fees in place, these students, faced with vast increases in charges to study here, will most likely have to go elsewhere. Their absence from the London scene, lessens diversity, narrows the experience of UK nationals filling their places and contributes to an overall feeling that London’s leading, if not champion position within the fashion industry is dwindling.
As well as this freedom of people, there is of course the matter of freedom of trade. Outside the EU or without subsequent equivalent trade deals, both import and export can be subject to tariffs, quotas and taxation. Consumers in the EU looking to buy UK products could be deterred by their more expensive and therefore less appealing prices. For UK fashion manufacturers this is a concern as their already more costly mark-ups fall victim to additional costs. Conversely with taxation and tariff being placed on imports from elsewhere, products from the UK may become comparatively cheaper to home-consumers and therefore boost desire to consume from UK Fashion companies. In this sense restriction on freedom of import could aid British designers, though many are quick to add the largest interest in ‘made in England’, ‘heritage’ product comes from over seas.
When delving into other details of what we face losing through Brexit, one key issue is flagged- EU Intellectual Property Rights. In a nutshell, as members of the EU, any registered creative product is protected not only nationally, but in every country that is part of the European union. This means that what you create, your own property, cannot be stolen and profited from by others, without consequence. With instagram accounts like ‘@diet_prada’ (a social-media page that exposes copying within the industry) holding 640,000 followers and counting, the conversation around the importance of creative plagiarism is popular. The loss of our EU IP rights, without some replacement protection in place, could mean London fashion houses having to show elsewhere to avoid stolen ideas and to maximise profit from their unique creations. This essentially puts London Fashion Week, as we know it, in jeopardy.
Beyond the political discussion of ‘Fashion Post Brexit’ we can also ask what fashion with look like aesthetically in a post-Brexit era. Designers immediately reacted and engaged with the referendum in their collections and continue to use the political climate as inspiration for what they create. It seems designers could go one of three ways. Those disillusioned by the lack of a deal, increase in prominence of right wing rhetoric and xenophobia, turn to bleak, dystopian pessimism in the form of cynical slogans, rough textures, unsettling colour schemes and nomadic silhouettes, as at ‘A Cold Wall’, ‘Christopher Shannon’ and ‘Liam Hodges’ for example. At the other end we see, in the face of Brexit and indeed Trump over the pond, a dream-like quest for optimism. Designers like Ashish and Molly Goddard acknowledge fashion as a force for good and present optimistic collections- full of colour, pride and sequins-galore at the former and abundant in playful ruffles and light tulle at the latter. In the middle are the designers choosing not to directly participate with the politics. Some designers are reserving fashion’s right to be independent of partisan politics and to exist either as an art form alone or as just simply… ‘clothes’. In an era however where politics is available to everyone at the sharing of a tweet or viewing of an online video, this choice to not partake, is to me an engagement in and of itself. By refusing direct involvement, keeping your opinion to yourself or perhaps not even having one in the first place, designers are still contributing to the fashion climate regardless, even if the statement is ‘can we please just keep going as normal’.
Fundamentally what we should conclude is that fashion is by no means irrelevant when it comes to Brexit. An industry that could seem superficial and decadent to many is in fact a billion-pound industry and a key contributor to the UK economy. The professionals working within this industry have every right to voice their concerns, as fashion is crucial to the sustenance of our culture and economy.
On a personal level I look for the UK to maintain its diverse, welcoming, ‘melting-pot’ nature, regardless of the deal May’s government does or does not come to. I say to any international sceptical of our views towards foreign talent, that the majority of this industry is still with you! We can and must remain an eclectic, multifaceted haven to nurture young creatives. The UK government must consider the effect the loss of foreign skills and design would have on the London scene and be confident that outside the EU we have equivalent systems in place to welcome and financially aid talent from across the globe, to work for us and contribute to the betterment of our industry, economy and of our nation.