Top British fashion designers reveal what Brexit means for them

Shortly before the EU referendum in 2016, the British Fashion Council (BFC) conducted a poll involving 500 designers. It revealed that 90 per cent of them planned to vote Remain.

It should come as no surprise, then, that after three years of shambolic negotiations, the fashion industry’s concerns about leaving the EU are very much still in tact.

In January, the BFC said a no-deal Brexit “should be avoided at all costs” and voiced its support for a Final Say vote, a stance that countless designers – from Vivienne Westwood to Katharine Hamnett – have since backed up.

“The ongoing uncertainty and confusion that a no deal creates will have a negative impact on our industry, where investment is already impacted from the uncertainty being faced,” read the organisation’s statement.

Adam Mansell, CEO at the UK Fashion and Textile Association, explained that a no deal could result in import tariffs of up to 12 per cent.

“This could leave the UK industry with an export tariff bill of hundreds of millions of pounds,” he tells The Independent.

“Some UK fashion companies are already being treated as if we’re not members of the EU,” he added. “People in the industry aren’t placing orders and goods are being stopped at borders.” 

Elsewhere, major industry players have cited fears that bowing out with no deal will lead to higher manufacturing prices and loss of talented staff.

The fashion industry is also dominated by small medium enterprises (SMEs), many of whom would not have the cash flow to survive a no-deal scenario.

As the exit date looms ominously over our divided nation, here’s where British fashion designers stand on Brexit now.

Katharine Hamnett CBE

(Katharine Hamnett)

Katharine Hamnett has been one of the most vocal anti-Brexit voices in the fashion industry. This is largely due to the 71-year-old designer’s famous slogan T-shirts, which bear phrases such as: “Fashion Hates Brexit”, “Second Referendum Now” and “Cancel Brexit”. Having founded her namesake label in 1979, Hamnett has 40 years of experience under her belt.

Speaking to The Independent, the designer explains that restricting free movement in a post-Brexit landscape would be a “catastrophe” for the fashion industry.

“Fashion personnel come from all over the world, and British designers, the best in the world, travel all over,” she adds.

“Roughly 75 per cent of all British fashion industry components have to be imported, so Brexit would ensure delays, which are fatal to a brand’s reputation. Nothing is better than what we already have: being members of the EU.”

Richard Malone

Richard Malone might’ve only graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2014, but the Irish designer has already established himself as one of the most exciting talents in the industry. His collections are lauded for their sculptural influences and avant-garde patterns.

“What makes the fashion industry in London so rich and creative is the mix of the brilliant cultures that you find here,” Malone enthuses.

“Not only does Brexit mean we’re going to miss out on the unique perspectives that fuel the creativity London is known for, but we’re going to lose so much talent after leaving the EU and especially in the event of no deal,” he tells The Independent

Malone also argued that Brexit will have a huge impact in terms of losing valuable team members.

“People don’t seem to realise that we’re already experiencing a shortage of skills, and that’s going to get significantly worse if we’re not well prepared,” he added.

“I came to London almost eight years ago, and Brexit just feels like a turn in the completely wrong direction.”

Henry Holland

Henry Holland is famed for his loud and eye-catching designs that boast a firm celebrity following, with Lily Allen, actor Jaime Winstone and model Agyness Deyn all longtime supporters of his label.

Having risen to attention in 2006 for his graphic slogan T-shirts that bore phrases such as “I’ll Tell You Who’s Boss Kate Moss”, Holland has always been viewed as a confident and fearless fashion figurehead.

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As a made-to-order manufacturing business, Holland says he thinks the main challenges would be managing relationships with his wholesale partners around the world.

“We have now sold our autumn/winter 2019 collection and will possibly be delivering post Brexit,” he adds. “But in light of increased tariffs, shipping delays and the overall impact of the strength of the pound, it’s hard to see how Brexit will have any positive effects whether there is a deal or not.”

The designer explains that his team have ultimately sold an entire collection with “no idea” what the cost of these goods will be to them when the time comes to import them.

“Our margins for the next year are a complete guess and this has potentially catastrophic effects on the entire industry,” he added.

“There are obviously mitigating factors in terms of where the bulk of the manufacturing is done for many brands – luckily a large portion of ours is done outside of Europe – but the effect on the exchange rates and import and export tariffs, for want of a better word, remain.”

Matty Bovan

Matty Bovan is one of the fledgling design talents in the industry, whose eponymous brand is worn by well-heeled folk like model-of-the-moment Adwoa Aboah.

Speaking to The Independent, the 28-year-old York-based designer reveals his stores have “thankfully” already received their spring deliveries, which has alleviated some of the Brexit-induced pressure.

“There’s been so much up in the air regarding Brexit,” he says, “and no one has been able to offer definitive advice to someone such as myself.

“I feel it’s still early to speculate what will happen next. I’d like to see how things settle further. We have several new stores showing interest, so let’s see how this impacts things.”

Hannah Weiland

Hannah Weiland founded Shrimps in 2013, launching the label with a single faux fur coat. The brand has since evolved into a popular outerwear, clothing and accessories business, whose fans include Alexa Chung and Kate Moss.

“As a small, London based-brand, we work and trade with businesses based within the EU, that helps us to keep costs down and helps us to achieve the results we want within our means, as well as hire international talent,” Weiland tells The Independent.

“Brexit would really compromise this for us and for our customers, not to mention the negative impact on the economy in general that would come from such a drastic change, which will inevitably be disastrous for the fashion and luxury industry.”

Bella Freud

Bella Freud has been running her namesake London-based label since the early 1990s and is famed for her plush, slim-fitting slogan jumpers.

“I don’t know anyone in the fashion business who voted leave,” the womenswear designer tells The Independent.

Freud adds that the loss in value of the pound has already had an adverse effect on the UK fashion industry.

“The cost of importing fabrics and finished goods is eroding the profit margin, which is affecting every stage of the supply chain. Consumer confidence has been seriously battered with the drop in house prices.

“This is before Brexit has even happened.”

Olivia von Halle

Olivia von Halle has been adding a heady dose of glamour to our nightwear since 2011. The London-based label has made a name for itself by selling matching silk pyjama sets that are far too fancy to actually sleep in. Celebrity fans include Selena Gomez, Bella Hadid and Jennifer Lopez.

Unlike some of her industry comrades, von Halle is marginally more optimistic about what Brexit means for her.

“The fashion industry now is such a global business that I don’t think Brexit will have a huge impact in terms of sales in the luxury sector,” she tells The Independent.

“What happens with Brexit does not fundamentally change demand. However, we will perhaps see more of an impact for British brands when it comes to staffing, in offices and stores, if we lose the free movement of people within the EU.”

Von Halle added that she is in the fortunate position given the fact that her business extends beyond the borders of the EU, and explained that the way Brexit impacts fashion brands will largely depend on where they import their goods from.

“Therefore the direct impact on our business not being a member of the EU is less significant than it could be,” she continues. “In fact as an exporter of luxury goods the effect on the currency and the weakness against the dollar has been good for business.

“We import most of our goods from China and export the majority to the US with markets like Canada and Australia also being significant. So any future trade deals we could strike with those countries to lower tariffs would be hugely beneficial.”

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