In recent years, the fashion industry has been battling with UK politics to have their voice and concerns heard. Flashback to 2016, the fashion industry was vocally not in favour of Britain leaving the European Union. Maybe they could see the potential future risks of Brexit’s seamless war on fashion.
The whole of the country was divided in opinion about whether Britain should leave the EU or not. During political campaigns, pro-Remain designers such as Vivienne Westwood were strong in their views that Brexit would damage the UK Fashion industry.
In fact, 90 percent of British designers told the British Fashion Council that they were proud remainers. They raised concerns regarding the impact of Brexit on renowned fashion institutions. The University of Arts London could miss out on EU funding and incredible foreign talent.
Despite all of this, Brexit did happen. On the 31st of January 2020, Britain bid adieu to the EU. Waving goodbye and welcoming carnage to the great British fashion industry. If customers cannot afford to purchase these items, could the industry collapse?
The Potential Recession
The initial impact of Brexit has sent the sterling currency up and down like a yo-yo. The only people reaping the benefits of this sloping value are overseas buyers. They are acquiring luxury goods from London-based retailers due to the weakness of the pound.
Fears of an imminent recession have been bubbling ever since the result of the 2016 referendum. There has been loss of confidence in the UK’s stock markets, making consumers hold on to their wages a little bit tighter.
People’s disposable incomes have only just recovered from the 2008 global recession. Is anyone willing to open their purses again in the face of another bleak few years?
But didn’t the 2008 recession kill the high street?
There’s no doubt that the 2008 financial crash changed how consumers spent their money. The fashion market had taken the biggest hit of all. First, there was a huge reduction in average prices for the clothing market due to rising competition between retailers. And then customers become increasingly more frugal.
The fashion industry then faced a decline in shopping habits as people visited the high street less and less. This has arguably been the biggest and most lasting impact of the economic crisis.
Annually, the average shopper is purchasing 9 fewer items every time in comparison to 12 years ago. According to Kantar, last year 64% of shoppers, who participated in their survey, agreed with the statement “I’ll only buy clothing when necessary.”
During the recession, womenswear took the largest hit, especially for those aged between 30 and 40 as they considerably cut back on their spending habits.
During the dark period, fashion became a bleak array of designs. An office mood board of black, white, navy and greys lined the streets draining the style out of fashion. No wonder no one was buying anything.
But by the grace of our fashion gods, embellishments, bright colours and patterns returned to our stores. By 2010, the fashion industry had managed to pull itself back together again. Designers started to return to a maximalist style of clothing. A huge kudos to Alessandro Michele at Gucci who heralds maximalism in full effect.
Ralph Lauren once said that he doesn’t “design clothes but instead he designs dreams”. This statement reflects the UK clothing market as we crawled out of that credit crunch into more hopeful times.
Will Brexit’s seamless war on fashion cause similar damaging effects?
Since Brexit hit the headlines 4 years ago, peoples’ spending habits chopped and changed. People stopped spending when the result was first revealed. But with a new wave of minimalism fashion on the rise, more and more people became willing to splash their cash.
Designers have gone back to their minimalist approach in the face of the economic uncertainty brought about by Brexit. But what about a no deal Brexit? The British Fashion Council has emphasised that this scenario should be avoided at all costs to prevent Brexit’s seamless war on fashion.
The UK Fashion and Textile Association estimate that switching to World Trade Organisation rules, could cost the fashion industry almost £900 million. Tariffs on fashion could sky-rocket beyond what we already know. The average price of shoes could even see a growth of up to 16% more.
It is imperative for the industry, worth a staggering £32 billion and employing more than 890,000 people, to seek an EU deal. Or else fashion consumers will have to foot this secret Brexit bill.
The future of fashion retail
As stated before, we are now more in limbo than ever before. The UK has entered the year-long transition period of its acrimonious divorce from the EU. The uncertainty of job losses and inflation could cement the death of the high street. The decade has only just begun!
Big brands are going bust, independent brands are filling their spaces but have a small or non-existent shelf life. And fashion lovers are bored of the same old designs being regurgitated.
Young people kept the fashion industry alive during the 2008 recession. who kept our fashion industry alive. Their desire for newness continued to drive sales in the face of uncertain times. A study by Mintel, in 2010, one in five 16-24-year-olds spent more on clothes than they did the previous year.
Not even the buy now pay later schemes are attracting the big spenders as they begin to choose necessities over luxuries. Higher prices, boring designs, and expensive brands that only support sustainability and outstanding ethical standards are turning consumers away. People are more likely to tighten their belts in the next few months, even years. This will have the same rippling effect as the 2008 recession.
Bill Cunningham once described fashion as !the armour to survive the reality of everyday life”. Unfortunately, it seems that our fashion troops won’t be able to afford and even more so, are less willing, to suit up.