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Vivienne Westwood Brexit
Vivienne Westwoodvia @viviennewestwoodofficial

Decoding what a Brexit might mean for fashion

The fashion industry is one of the UK’s most important exports – so what could an ‘out’ vote mean for those who work in and support it?

The road leading to the EU referendum has been long, winding and, ultimately, confusing. Even politicians are unsure of the true consequences of a Brexit vote, so how are we supposed to understand? One sure fact is that artists and young people are leading firmly towards a remain vote – with Wolfgang Tillmans recently launching a passionate campaign to safeguard our European status, and names including Vivienne Westwood, Jonathan Anderson, Ashley Williams, Charles Jeffrey and Claire Barrow all coming out in support of staying in. In essence, we live in a society enriched by foreign cultures, people, and freedom of movement – if you work in fashion, that’s even more true. So what might leaving the EU mean for the industry?


The European Regional Development Fund has provided millions to London fashion. The London College of Fashion receives huge financial benefits from the ERDF; it sponsors projects which help designers create global opportunities, improve growth and balance innovation with commercial potential. The ERDF also sponsors the British Fashion Council, the non-profit organisation behind London Fashion Week, London Collections: Men and sponsorships such as NEWGEN and the BFC/GQ Designer Menswear fund. With over £5m of funding in the last few years, it’s surely provided vital resources to give a platform to London’s most talented designers, stylists, make-up artists and more. 


The pound hit a seven-year low this year, and HSBC has warned that it’s likely to keep decreasing in value if a Brexit vote does get pushed through. What does this mean? It means the price of that t-shirt you’ve been eyeing up might get bumped up. The main fears here are that plenty of designers outsource their production to foreign countries and, if the exchange rate falls, these costs will increase in real terms. Essentially, the only way to recuperate those costs would be to charge more for the final product, meaning you’d end up paying more for the exact same item.


We all know that tuition fees are already crippling. Spare a thought, however, for international students, who are often completely rinsed. In real terms, the prestigious MA Fashion course at Central Saint Martins currently costs £6125 in the first year of study and £3675 in the second, making the overall cost around £10,000 in total. By contrast, international students pay £15,450 in their first year and £9280 in their second, making their overall bill around £15,000 higher. Currently, EU students are protected and pay the same rate as British students – this would all change if Brexit were to become a reality. The likely repercussion is that prospective talents would take their business to countries remaining in the EU, dealing a massive blow to the UK fashion industry.


The global market is incredibly important to UK businesses; contextually, the Chinese market is one of the largest and most lucrative in the world. Gavin Haig, the boss of Belstaff, spoke recently to the Independent and stated fears that Brexit would “add complexity and barriers to our business – not good for trade, employees or customers.” Basically, brands may be forced to pay increased fees to send their products global and foreign investors would be deterred. The G7 even last week issued an official warning that Brexit could ‘pose a serious risk to growth’ – one which would undoubtedly affect the fashion industry.


Jonathan Anderson is one designer based in England who flies weekly to Spain to work on Loewe. This international formula is replicated throughout the fashion industry – think of journalists flying to shows abroad, buyers attending Parisian showrooms and models moving countries every other week in order to take jobs. Fashion depends on free movement. Now, in theory, UK citizens would lose the right to work and travel freely in the occasion of a Brexit vote, but it’s likely that David Cameron would negotiate foreign deals. If these deals didn’t happen then we could move to a points-based system, essentially meaning there’d be way more hoops to jump through and a mountain of unnecessary paperwork. It’s true that nobody knows for sure; the decision would be in Cameron’s hands. Do we want to take that risk?