After three-and-a-half years, two snap elections, and endless failed trade agreements, on December 31st, the United Kingdom finally made its official withdrawal from the European Union with a deal in place. It would be easy, then, to imagine that the journey had reached, if not its end, then at least a new chapter with a more clearly defined path forward. But the final hour agreement—more of a last-minute averting of total economic self-destruction—has left small businesses up and down the country scrambling to answer the question: What comes next?
The first post-Brexit London Fashion Week kicked off last Friday, with hopes that it might go some way to answering that question within the context of fashion. Because even after many weeks of coming to terms with the aftermath of Brexit, the future of the country’s largest creative industry—one estimated to contribute around £35 billion to the GDP annually—still hangs in the balance.
The disregard for the fashion industry during Brexit negotiations feels particularly stark when compared to the outsize attention focused on trades like fishing, which, despite the emotional charge of its association with the redrawing of borders, balks in comparison to the devastating financial impact of ignoring fashion. Fishing is an industry that employs approximately 24,000 people, and has already received £23 million in relief; meanwhile, fashion’s workforce of 555,000 has been largely left to fend for themselves, even as high street retail has taken an immeasurable hit and resulted in tens of thousands of layoffs.
For those in power, to ignore fashion’s role in putting London on the international cultural map—let alone its fiscal importance, if we’re speaking a language they’re more likely to understand—is to shoot an fundamental sector of the British economy straight in the foot. But the weight of the cold, hard statistics of just how forcefully Brexit will impact one of the country’s most measurably significant creative exports appears to have done little in swaying their outlook, with the only concrete financial relief provided coming by way of a £20 million fund available to small businesses across all industries nationwide.
That’s not to say there haven’t been significant efforts to make fashion’s case as a part of Britain’s role on the global stage. It’s worth noting, in particular, the work of Tamara Cincik at Fashion Roundtable, whose open letter to the British government explaining the economic benefits of making a cash injection to the fashion industry attracted co-signatories including Nick Knight, Vivienne Westwood, and Jefferson Hack. And it was also reassuring to see many of the city’s designers strike an upbeat tone across the weekend. Any attempts to pinpoint direct references to the current challenges facing London’s designer vanguard as a result of Brexit would be trite—but even without taking into account the broader political context, it was the designers working in direct opposition to Brexit’s isolationist spirit who emerged as the week’s most exciting voices.