Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council, pens an open letter to Boris Johnson.
Dear Prime Minister,
It is 31 December 2020, the day before the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. This is a day we have talked about for months and months.
I’m writing to you both in my role as the CEO of the British Fashion Council and as a proud citizen, who is equally proud of the industry of which I am custodian.
To give you context, the fashion industry has been preparing for a No Deal Brexit for the past three years. We hadn’t planned for anything else due to the fact that there seems to have been zero traction in discussions on the key challenges concerning the fashion industry, namely free and easy movement of goods and samples, protection of intellectual property and access to talent, both to universities with lower EU fee banding and for talent – from seamstresses to multilingual retail executives – into businesses.
While we are pleased that goods can move tariff free and, of course, will get to grips with the significant paperwork that allows that to take place, we remain concerned about the cost and impact of Brexit on the fashion industry.
We still urgently need a solution to the issue of unregistered design rights that aren’t addressed in this deal, rights that are key for both British and EU fashion businesses to effectively trade in both markets. The EU has timetabled a review of simultaneous disclosure and I encourage the UK to do the same, as a reciprocal agreement on this is essential.
We are deeply concerned about visas and how these will affect access to skilled workers, creative talent and models, all essential to retain the UK’s position as a leading fashion nation and London as global creative capital.
There have been multiple seminars, briefings, roundtables and webinars to ensure businesses are as prepared as they can possibly be. And as we go into January we will continue to deliver these for our designers, with updated information already available at britishfashioncouncil.com.
As we head into what looks like a prolonged period of fashion retailers being closed, we ask you again to reconsider your position on tax-free shopping. As an industry, we have provided multiple points of evidence why removing tax-free shopping will have a detrimental effect on businesses operating in the UK and on further investment and capital expenditure in this country. We keep hearing that you are listening, but we aren’t seeing much evidence of having been listened to.
As I have stated, I am very proud of the country we live in and the fashion industry – which in 2019 contributed £35 billion to the UK economy and employed 890,000 people. I very much want the UK to continue to be the best place to do business. However, with the aforementioned challenges in mind, we need the government to work with us to put in place measures to ensure that this remains the case. I am usually a “glass half full” person, so despite these challenges I have great faith in our resilient entrepreneurial fashion businesses and urge you to work with us to find and secure global opportunities for these businesses going forward.
For example, the numerous trade deals that are now being done in readiness for a post-Brexit world need to create a strong and robust global intellectual property framework that makes the UK a true competitor. Designers need to feel secure that their creativity is properly protected and nurtured on the world stage. There needs to be confidence that the UK has a broad vision for the future – not consumed by the detail of negotiation – and that the bigger picture of what you as a key advocate for Brexit promised is possible.
We need to make sure the UK is attracting global tourism, global investment and that our own home-grown businesses from all over the UK are supported in exporting products, services and cultural programmes.
As 2020 comes to an end, and it has been a long, hard slog of a year, I believe more strongly than ever that the British fashion industry is one we should be proud of. The vast majority of brands have hustled to remodel their businesses to save jobs. Indeed, many have even used their limited resources to source, create and distribute PPE. It has been an almighty effort that the whole of the UK should have great pride in.
Our own London Fashion Week was the first of the four global fashion weeks to go digital. The Fashion Awards – in which you had your own cameo – also went digital and took a look at this year through the eyes of fashion. We also celebrated global leaders of change who have raised the bar of how to do things differently, leaders in innovation, sustainable practices and collaboration.
I ask that your government starts listening to and working hand in hand with the fashion industry – an industry that straddles big businesses and creativity, that reaches all ages, genders, races and countries and will have to change significantly as we address our impact on the environment, people and communities. If as one country of four nations we are to truly blaze a trail for our businesses globally, the fashion industry needs to be front and centre, for both its soft power to win hearts and its business welly to create global partnerships and prosperity in the UK.
Caroline Rush, CEO, British Fashion Council