Summer 2016: London Fashion Week. An air of uncertainty billows through the capital as ‘I’M IN’ campaign posters are desperately pinned onto walls, windows and facial expressions. The protests even seeped onto the catwalk. Sibling’s Cozette McCreery and Sid Bryan wore ‘IN’ T-shirts while acknowledging the audience. Christopher Raeburn decorated outerwear with politically-charged ‘IN’ Velcro badges. Daniel W. Fletcher’s presentation outside 180 The Strand, dubbed the “STAY” collection, had no holds barred. It was the industry’s final push to securing the future of British fashion.
Almost three-years later and Brexit is still up in the air. Only a month until Article 50 is activated and a deal is yet to be agreed between the United Kingdom and the European Union despite assurances otherwise. Still, we are told to brace ourselves for a Hard Brexit, despite a proposed second referendum being reportedly under consideration, however unlikely. Unfortunately, this has become the British Fashion Council’s only hope in quelling the forthcoming turmoil that will ensue on the £32bn industry come Brexit Day.
Fashion has already bore the brunt of the deal. A depreciating pound sterling since the referendum results has meant that prices have increased when dealing internationally. Uncertainty has bred a reluctance among international companies investing in British brands, due to the potential risk. A Hard Brexit erases the transition period for the fashion industry, while the terms of a Free Trade Agreement are unpredictable, with prices more than likely to go up.
It’s no surprise that a 96% industry majority voted to remain. The fruitful marriage between Britain and Europe meant that fashion could reap the rewards; however, the industry’s fabric has been impeded with a strong reliance on outsourcing its goods and services. The UK thrives off of an international pool of talent and fashion is no exception. In recent seasons, the likes of Wood Wood, Ports 1969 and Iceberg have presented collections at London Fashion Week/Men’s, despite being based abroad.
While the British Fashion Council continues to extend its allure to international designers and creatives with its new Tier 1 Visa scheme, in collaboration with the Home Office, Britain’s aversive political strife with Europe will prove problematic to Britain’s romance with European fashion. This holds true not only to international brands but British too. In 2002, an exodus swept over London Fashion Week as Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan and Stella McCartney moved to the Paris Fashion Week schedule. With the end of EU funding and the Erasmus scheme for British students, many might take their talents across the channel. Fast forward and all the signs point to another Brexit-induced wave of departures.
The Brexit overcast has been pierced with a couple buoyant beams from the fashion economy, however, as the ‘Made in Britain’ moniker seems set to benefit. Factories and workshops have experienced an upturn in business from major labels, who are unable to commit to outsourcing production due to uncertainty over costs and tariffs. Still, the UK staffs over ten-thousand European workers, so many of the seamstresses and tailors employed by these factories will potentially face problems come March 29th.
Others, though, have anticipated a prospective logistical nightmare by establishing production and distribution companies abroad. In turn, this will enable brands to bypass Britain’s costly and congested importation and exportation routes, with many already following suit. This also includes shifting inventory. For example, Seko Logistics are assisting e-tailers with relocating goods to warehouses overseas, not only in Europe, but Asia and the Americas too. Such a move enables them further access to the global market, which isn’t guaranteed under Brexit.
From a creative perspective, it is likely London Fashion Week will experience an immigration culture hybridisation – at least an increase. Immigrants and their descendants will theorise on life after Brexit while others inebriate their collections with patriotism. From Samuel Ross’ A Cold Wall*, which explores the British working-class’ relationship with their material environment to Kiko Kostadinov’s avant-garde uniforms, it will be interesting to see how designers’ cultural commentary adapts to the changing political and social climate.
Brexit’s divisive nature is evident across the board. Europeans living and working in the UK have become disillusioned. Fashion’s progressive future is conflicted with Britain’s closed borders. And our Prime Minister is clueless. While uncertainty over a trade deal casts a shadow of doubt nationwide, there’s still cause for optimism; however little.