In the recent wake of the European Union referendum, a vote so tightly cast that its result was bound to cause fractions, there has been a great deal of speculation as to the impact of Brexit on various industries. Speculation regarding the fashion industry has been particularly widespread, predominantly of a negative nature. Brexit has been dubbed by some to be the end of London Fashion Week, and the worst thing to happen to British fashion. But such an un-nuanced view is beneficial for no one.
Surprisingly to the naysayers, the immediate effect of Brexit has been extremely positive for the fashion industry. The weakness of the pound on the international markets has turned London into a golden opportunity for bargain hunters paying in euros, dollars, and yuan. Consequently, online shopping is booming. This is good news for London, which has been established as an unofficial e-commerce capital, with companies, such as Net-A-Porter, ASOS, and Boohoo, having established their headquarters there.
Britain’s famous Harrods is one such beneficiary of the influx of international sales searchers. As Managing Director Michael Ward explains: “Harrods is world-renowned for offering an unrivalled range of luxury merchandise and, during the summer months, we always expect to welcome a higher volume of international customers…Therefore, for Harrods, it was business as usual we are pleased to report strong trading so far.”
There are predictions that the online retailer ASOS will also reap substantial gains since two thirds of its customers and sales originate from overseas. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the referendum ASOS recorded its biggest sales since Black Friday in 2015. According to the BBC, Burberry is another beneficiary, with its share price having increased by 24% since June.
Brexit also provides an attractive opportunity for outside investment in companies themselves, which is another means of fostering international links and trade. According to the Wall Street Journal, the weakened pound provides an opportunity for French and Italian brands, which already make up half of the global luxury market, to gain a greater market share. More companies in general will be looking to source within Britain, in order to avoid issues with exchange rate differences, according to consultant Sophie Steller, a London-based knitwear studio owner.
Aside from the financial gains this will provide, it will likely help further bolster London’s status as a fashion capital. Increased interest in the ‘British brand’ provides an opportunity for ‘Made in Britain’ to thrive – an international currency in and of itself. With British retailers which source from Britain also benefitting from the weak pound, ‘buying Britain’ could be on the rise both home and abroad.
Furthermore, fears over the fashion industry’s status should be allayed at least to some extent by the fact that the industry has a number of powerful political figureheads behind it. Prime Minister Theresa May, in a speech delivered at 10 Downing Street the night before London Fashion Week began, stressed the importance of British fashion to Britain’s economy:
“British fashion is of huge importance to our country, contributing £28bn to the UK economy and supporting nearly 900,000 jobs…From our home grown start-ups to international fashion houses – every business in the industry will play a major role in ensuring we make a success of Brexit. By taking advantage of the opportunities that leaving the EU gives us and playing to our strengths as a great trading nation - we can build a fairer economy that works for all, not just the privileged few.”
One of the strongest signals that we are indeed taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by Brexit, and that we are playing to our strengths, has to be the resounding success of London Fashion Week 2016. The event showcased an array of both British and international collections, emphasising London’s dynamic multiculturalism and style, and its resilient ability to attract design talent. As London Mayor, Sadiq Khan said:
“London Fashion Week has shown that London is open to the world and is an international leader of creativity and entrepreneurship. There was a fantastic range of designers and talent on the schedule this season, highlighting the very best the industry has to offer from big brands to independent retailers. The London fashion scene has never been more diverse.”
Indeed, LFW proved to be a tangible manifestation of Khan’s #LondonIsOpen campaign, designed to spread the message that London remains united, creative, and open for business following the EU referendum. Fears about international brands withdrawing proved to be unfounded, with organisers of LFW saying that it had attracted more international interest than any previous fashion week. As Caroline Rush, Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council (“BFC”) stressed:
“We have a point to prove to our [Fashion Week] guests that the vote to leave the EU doesn’t mean we’re going to end our international partnerships and collaborations…We need to send a clear message that London is open to outsiders and the UK is a place of business opportunity.”
That message appears to be loud and clear for now. British fashion has a strong legacy within the framework of European and international design. Brexit does not change that. We are still home to the best talent in the global fashion industry, as has been asserted by Caroline Rush.
Whatever your own personal feelings on Brexit may be, we need to start accentuating the positives before us. As the BFC believes, “The fashion industry epitomises London – entrepreneurial, international, creative.” Haute couture itself finds its roots in Britain, having been invented by Charles Frederick Worth, an Englishman. Britain is always at the forefront of innovation and that does not change whether or not it is in or out of Europe. Fashion is an industry with global communicatory power. As the Spring/Summer 2017 shows in London have proven, Britain still capable of harnessing this power.
Indeed, as Andrew Groves, course director of the BA in Fashion at the University of Westminster explains, “At the end of the day I’m hopeful…We are a creative industry and we always react to things in a creative manner, which is normally a positive manner, however it’s expressed.”
The truth is that we cannot yet know exactly what Brexit’s impact will be. Much will turn on the details negotiated in the two year exit period once Article 50 has been triggered. This uncertainty is undoubtedly uncomfortable. However, it serves no end to view the referendum’s result as purely negative. The vote has been cast, and it is up to us now. We have to embrace the result as an opportunity to harness the creativity of the industry and to shape this new future.
Becky Knott is a trainee trade mark attorney at Barker Brettell LLP. She advises clients on the availability and registrability of trademarks, as well handling more contentious matters such as opposition and infringement cases. She previously worked at a London law firm for a year and, before that, studied English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford.