Before the vote on the EU referendum became final, the fashion industry in London was buzzing. As the fashion industry was worth £66 billion and directly contributed £28 billion to the U.K. economy in 2017, this influential hub of design, press and retail is built on an international process. From the factories to the shops to the magazines that write about the latest emerging designer and what’s in season, fashion is not local. Therefore, it’s no wonder that 90 percent of those who worked in fashion voted remain. There’s even a popular T-shirt being sold stating “Fashion Hates Brexit” that you can expect your favourite politically charged influencer to be wearing at London Fashion Week.
But it’s now been over a year since the U.K. decided to leave the European Union and in fashion terms, it’s been two complete seasons and not long until we all get our blue passports. With spring/summer 2019 currently underway this September, there are high tensions in the air this fashion month. As fashion is so global, there are concerns on how Brexit will affect the industry but also London as a fashion capital.
Universities such as Central St. Martins and London College of Fashion are homes to generations of iconic fashion alumni; umbrella university UAL is also made up of 19,000 students from over 130 countries. Cultures that not only enrich London and by consequence, the rest of the U.K., as these students end up in the pages of British Vogue and go on to impact how fashion is shaped and what the rest of the world will end up wearing. Therefore, Stephanie Phair, chair of the British Fashion Council believes that thinking about the pipeline of home-grown talent is a post-Brexit priority. “It’s extremely important that we remain open and accessible to international talent.” The question remains, without these transatlantic relationships, what would fashion be?
It seems apparent through this London Fashion Week that the industry has already started preparations before the U.K. officially leaves the EU next year. With designers having to think about exchange rates, how much stock to order and shipping dates, as importing clothes will become more inflexible, hiring staff is also high on the list of problems.
“Brexit has affected me in terms of having my usual freelancers around less because they are trying to create a sturdier client relationships in other parts of Europe in case it becomes harder to work here,” says Weruzochi Chinasa, founder and designer of luxury and sustainable womenswear brand Weruzo. The fashion label is based both in London and Nigeria, however producing one artefact of clothing takes the effort of many hands, with the final product finishing in the U.K. Yet with Brexit, Chinasa further explains, “holding down a pattern cutter [for example] becomes more difficult”.
Similarly, co-founder of Birdsong London, Sophie Avalon, spoke to Screen Shot about how Brexit has already affected the sustainable clothing and accessories brand. “We stopped buying from abroad because the pound got weak overnight. There were lots of American brands we used to buy from but with shipping being so expensive now, all our cut and sewn garments and knitwear are made here. The T-shirts are still bought by an ethical retailer in Bangladesh and our fabric handwoven in India”. Ironically but on the plus side, Avalon states her clientele have widened in Europe yet there is this sense of what will happen once the U.K., i.e. British fashion, leaves the EU?
As the future of the U.K.’s relationship with the EU remains murky, one thing that is clear is how those who work in fashion are already trying to think ahead by working around what could go wrong in order to continue being able to create and put out collections of work consistently. Oh and also keep their fashion jobs. That would be nice too.