In light of SHOWstudio’s recent panel discussion on the effects of Brexit on the fashion industry, Tuesday 30 May, I travelled to Shoreditch House to watch their Brexit for Breakfast discussion in the hope of gathering further opinion. Heading toward a comically placed projection of both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May haphazardly eating breakfast, I take a seat in a plump chesterfield corner piece and brace for debate. Chaired by Shoreditch House, the panel consists of menswear designer Oliver Spencer, Financial Times political leader writer Sebastian Payne and comedian Ahir Shar.
With the fashion industry contributing over £28 billion to the economy, it seems rather frustrating that when speaking about Brexit, fashion isn’t often a topic of discussion. As the panel discussion began it became apparant that this was widely felt among all panelists and indeed the audience too. 90% of people within the fashion industry voted to remain - no surprise considering a large aspect of the fashion industry is dependant on European exports, be that materials, designers, students or artisans. Designer Phoebe English stressed this frequently in SHOWstudio’s panel discussion. 'If people can't come here, it’ll be something that will be a slow detrimental impact on the fashion industry.' Oliver Spencer touches on this during the Brexit Breakfast, discussing the importance of international passage, 'they need us as much as we need them… the Italian economy is on a knife edge, if they can’t import/export to us they’re in trouble.’
In the run up to the snap general election, none of the key players have yet voiced their Brexit survival tactics, the panelists ask, are we feeling the effects of Brexit already? Spencer thinks so. Spencer feels the weakening of the pound has already begun to impact his day-to-day as well as taking a hit to big brands in America. 'Take Ralph Lauren for instance, over 40% of his business comes from discount stores such as Bicester village, he has closed two stores in New York and his rent for his Bond Street store has gone from 7 million to 11 million.' Without a grasp of the online, these top bracket brands are in considerable trouble. Sebastian Payne mentions that as Corbyn’s polls for the snap election have risen, the pound has dropped even further - perhaps not all Brexit to blame. Short term, the drop in the pound has given us a boost in tourism, with London becoming a much more affordable place to travel. Spencer claims that because of this, London is now the watch capital of the world. While this is a positive surge for the likes of Harrods and Selfridges, Soho’s boutiques and independent shops still struggle.
Payne then moves to discuss the importance of immigration, stating that unless 200,000 people immigrate, businesses will suffer. Neither politician has stated that they will support such a high number, which sends a sigh of exasperation across the panel. 'The lead indicator for a recession is immigration,' adds Payne. The murmurs of an impending recession quell the topic of fashion altogether and we begin discussing Brexit in a much larger scope - 'If we left (the E.U) in a snap there would be a 30% hole in the budget,’ says Payne. Is corporation tax an issue for the city? Should we all move to Europe? Will Theresa May get enough seats in the election?
The questions begin to retaliate from the audience, with one character offering a 'Made In England' solution to the issues of import/export. With China now too expensive for manufacturing and most items now made in Bangladesh - can we not manufacture and re-open the factories in Britain for production? Spencer mentions that Patrick Grant, the creative director of menswear brand E.Tautz, tried to do exactly this, opening a factory in Sheffield - which unfortunately had to close. This is part of a wider issue - youth favour the keyboard rather than a factory machine.
After much discussion, the panel agree that while the future for the fashion industry is indeed ominous, that the key asset this country is its creative power. With inflation and the price of everything except wages increasing, we all have to be creative to get by. 'Out of recession comes creativity,' comments Spencer. I’m pleased to see that this optimism of creativity was the result of both Shoreditch House's and SHOWstudio’s panels. A positive outlook, no matter the financial or political climes. The industry shows a passion and drive to survive.
Visit our panel Brexit: The Impact on the Fashion Industry to gauge a different perspective on the topic from the likes of Nick Knight, fashion politics consultant Tamara Cincik, adviser Munira Mirza, CEO of the UK Fashion & Textile Association Adam Mansell and designer Phoebe English.