Brexit and the Future of Fashion
Now that Boris has assumed his position of PM, and with the grim reality of a no-deal lurking in the shadows, we question whether it will be business as usual for Great Britain’s High Street come Halloween?
Going by recent reports, we can almost certainly predict a seismic shift, and not a positive one by all accounts. What with a potential crisis at the borders, supposed civil unrest, import delays affecting the acquisition of new medicine and fears around the availability of fresh produce…we may be in for a rough ride. And fashion will unlikely escape unscathed.
As eerily dystopian as our not-too distant future sounds, we sought to carve out a sense of what’s to come, looking for answers in this confusing climate. For advocates of sustainable fashion, we warn you, it’s not looking pretty…
Close to 3/4 of materials used in UK manufacturing of clothing are imported. Manufacturers will likely be faced with increased taxes and tariffs, possible port queues and delayed shipments, plus potential delays at immigration for foreign buyers. “Business that’s done unthinkingly now — shipping in cloth from Italian mills, sourcing components from China, Turkey and India, transporting finished clothes and models over to Paris or Milan for the shows, and product lines into stores in Europe — will entail many more additional steps. It will be a logistical nightmare.” quips Anna Tobin at Ready for Brexit. This would likely rack up increased air-miles in a garments production cycle and therefore ramp up the individual unit price at market. Fearing for an economic stand-still, this could only worsen what the British Retail Consortium (BRC) have reported as a 'seven-year low' for in store visits across the UK during the month of July. Not to mention retail sales of the same month reportedly fell by the biggest margin since records began in the mid-1990s.
“Business that’s done unthinkingly now — shipping in cloth from Italian mills, sourcing components from China, Turkey and India, transporting finished clothes and models over to Paris or Milan for the shows, and product lines into stores in Europe — will entail many more additional steps. It will be a logistical nightmare.”
A slump like this may be a reflection [in part] of our increasingly extreme weather conditions, but nonetheless exacerbated by a discouraged British public fatigued by Brexit uncertainty. Will this plummet us back into recession? Many businesses have begun to stock-pile product in the UK to ensure a lesser hit if we leave without a deal, warming Brexiteer hearts with post-wartime nostalgia and an inflated sense of Britain’s self-sufficiency. But this mindset is likely naive to the scale of the scenario.
If we leave the EU without a trade deal we may find ourselves, almost immediately, scrambling for non-perishables - with fresh fruit and veg likely to become “more scarce and more expensive". But how concerned should we be about the tolls on fashion in the case of no deal? British designer Henry Holland told the Independent: “Our margins for the next year are a complete guess and this has potentially catastrophic effects on the entire industry”, with Irish talent Richard Malone stating how the potential loss of diversity (namely EU citizens) in London’s creative hub will be of detriment to his business. It seems the luxury end of the market may feel the erosion of profit margins the most, exacerbated by a weak sterling. Whilst a considerable loss for high-street retailers in particular would be the free trade of raw materials within Europe, for which the World Trade Organisation is the governing forum for all negotiations. Starting from scratch with non-EU deals will be tricky because of our vulnerable entry point… akin to bargaining for a pay rise before being offered the job. Only something a deeply desperate yet wilfully arrogant politician would try their hand at.
“Our margins for the next year are a complete guess and this has potentially catastrophic effects on the entire industry” - Henry Holland
However, we remain hopeful that a Boris Brexit may not substantially impact demand. Securing new deals, however laborious that may be, with emerging economies who have a growing affluent class could be one key to supporting quality ‘Made in the UK’ produce.
And for now, as we wait for more concrete decisions to come out of parliament, we can get smart about spending on quality made wares that will see us through this gloomy spell. Never has it been more important to rally together in the face of our dire political landscape to demand better!
Words by Oliver Lamoury.