The UK, the Government, and the Fashion Industry

Last week, Boris Johnson from the Conservative party won a majority government.  What does that mean to the UK fashion industry?

The British Fashion Council said that it would “keep working with the government to make sure the interests of the British fashion industry are well-represented and heard.”

The fashion industry is worth £32 billion (nearly $43 billion) to the UK economy annually. “Our aim is to make sure that the government is aware of our priorities and will help us move the agenda forward on topics including international trade, sustainability, education, training, and talent.”

The retail sector is the country’s largest private-sector employer.  A significant portion of that is in fashion.

Boris Johnson

Johnson said he was “humbled” to have “won the support and trust of people who have never before voted Conservative” and that he “cannot and will not let them down.” He said that he would “deliver change,” but that his party “must change too.”

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street on his way to Buckingham Palace after the general election in London, Britain, December 13, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville

He promised to “get Brexit done” in accordance with the Jan. 31, 2020 deadline. He would introduce a points system for immigration and the “cleanest, greenest ecological policy.” He pledged to take the country carbon neutral by 2050.

Mr. Johnson’s brief tenure as Prime Minister has been marked by parliament defeats, legal reversals, and dangerous uncertainty. This is election result is a resounding vindication.

Defying predictions that he would be tossed out of his job, the prime minister is now assured of leading Britain through its most momentous transition since World War II.

“For Britain, which has lurched from crisis to crisis since the 2016 Brexit referendum, its future seemingly shrouded in perpetual uncertainty, the election provided a rare moment of piercing clarity.” (The New York Times)

Fashion Industry

Helen Brocklebank, CEO of Walpole, the official body representing the British luxury worldwide, was definitely upbeat regarding an end to uncertainly — but she expressed caution regarding the timetable for a trade agreement.

“My view is that luxury businesses will welcome an end to the uncertainty of the last three years.  Historically a Conservative government has offered the conditions in which British luxury thrives, but we remain concerned about the timetable for the negotiation of a UK/EU trade agreement – completing it in 11 months from Jan. 31 would be unprecedented.”

For luxury footwear businesses with deep supply chains throughout Europe, Brocklebank commented: “the devil will be in the detail of our future relationship with the European Union.”

Fashion designer Deborah Lyons agreed. “We are hoping, like everyone, that we will now get some clarity on exactly what will change and how.”

Although she produces her collection locally in London, sourcing many of her fabrics in the UK, Lyons is dependent on exports for the growth of her business. She also relies on European imports since the UK manufacturing industry is on the decline.

Sustainability

Earlier this year, members of the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee called on the government to enact a raft of new policies to tackle fashion’s environmental and social challenges.

The government said it is already working with the industry to reduce waste; It is still considering future policy measures like better producer transparency and product labeling. Ensuring all British workers are paid at least a minimum wage

The UK government’s softer-touch approach is partially in response to increased financial pressure (credit, purchasing, and inventory) in the fashion industry. The high street is struggling to compete with disruptive and highly competitive online brands. Retail giants like Topshop (Arcadia Group) scrambling to avoid bankruptcy.

Conclusion

Nobody knows how the result of the British election is going to affect the fashion industry, but there will be change.


Author: Jeffrey Clark

A management professional with 25 years global experience working with fortune 500 and speciality brands, specializing in lean manufacturing, product, supply chain management, procurement, sourcing, and operations. Proven proactive leadership, vision, creative, and successful strategic business skills to drive revenue and profit growth in highly competitive domestic and global markets. A strong relationship builder, functions effectively as an integral member of a cohesive senior executive team. Proven ability to source, identify and capitalize on emerging trends and niche market opportunities.