Now we are nearing the end of the first quarter of the first year outside of the European Union the damaging impacts of brexit are now starting to show across different industries. Much has been made in the media of it’s devastating effect on some industries such as fishing but the fashion industry could be facing decimation.
The sector is worth £35 billion and employs 1 million people. It is worth 1.6% of UK’s GDP which to put in comparison; Germany’s fashion industry is worth 0.8% of GDP.
“Fishing contributes as much to the UK economy as East London does from the fashion and textile industry, employing the same workforce as just one of the many high street retailers currently facing liquidation”Open Letter to the Government from 400 industry figures
The extensive red tape and paperwork when fashion brands send goods to the UK, in particular around rules of origin, are causing a lot of problems with items being sent back if the paperwork is incorrect. All adding time and stress so much so that some including myself have simply decided to only trade in the UK. This unnecessarily restricts many businesses as they are now effectively cut off from the rest of the world.
“The fashion industry contributes more to UK GDP than fishing, music, film and motor industries combined”
Models and photographers would often need to travel abroad for fashion shoots and fashion weeks mostly last minute. They now need visas or tier 5 sponsorship which means a lot of planning in advance that is not always possible with the way the industry works. This could also effect international trade shows and fairs too for smaller businesses and make it uneconomical.
There are now additional tarriffs and duties that are badly effecting the free movement of goods. This is another reason many fashion businesses like mine are now avoiding trading in the EU. This also effects goods coming into the UK, so many suppliers have had to raise costs or have stopped shiiping to the UK themselves.
“Consumers on both sides of the English Channel refusing purchases because of unexpected VAT and tariff charges”Textile Today
Many of the highly skilled machinists that have been working in the UK are from the EU where the are well trained and highly valued. These workers have not been included in the Shortage Occupation List and fall below the required £25,600 salary for the ‘points based system’. There has not been enough training in schools or further education to meet this skills gap. This is something the industry has been shouting about for years and now manufacturers have thousands of vacancies they cannot fill.
The problem that worries me the most currently is with unregistered community design rights. Under EU rules design rights were guaranteed but now they are only guaranteed in the UK if they were created there and not in the EU unless they were created there. Designers create different designs all the time and copyrighting every single one to get round this problem is just not possible. There is a real risk that we start to see designs being ripped off and small designers like me losing business as a result.
“Clothing is the 2nd most-counterfeited product after cigarettes and tobacco products”IP Crime and Enforcement Report
Another issues is the problems with stock being moved between the UK and the EU. Samples are often made overseas and then sent via the EU to the UK. Customs see samples as being something that cannot be resold but most fashion samples are as good as selling stock so this incurrs extra problems and costs. The other problem is when customers want to return things over the borders. It is now so costly and time consuming to do that that some brands are simply having them burnt instead.
“One British shopper was asked to pay £77 in extra charges on clothes costing £245 purchased from a French retailer”The Independent
After the year we have had with covid and subsequent bankruptcies we have seen from the Arcadia Group (Topshop, Burton etc.) Peacocks and Jaeger this is a double whammy that will change the face of British fashion forever. Although change is desperately needed in the sector to move towards a more ethical and sustainable model many amazing businesses may not survive. Even prestigious fashion brands holding company warrants are not immune. With many high street giants being bought by online fast fashion brands like ASOS and Boohoo I fear things may be going in the wrong direction and brexit is not helping.
If you are interested in reading more about issues facing the fashion industry try How Sexist is The Fashion Industry or What is Being Done To Fix Fashion. You can also follow Fashion Roundtable and their hashtag #dontmakefashionhistory as they work with government on behalf of the industry.