Are there any positives of Brexit for fashion, or does only doom and gloom lie ahead? Last week, I sat on a panel for Fashion Roundtable’s ‘Fashion and Brexit Question Time’ event to inform the industry of Brexit's implications on IP in fashion.
Joining me on the panel were a number of experts on fashion and the economy including Professor Swati Dhingra (Associate Professor of Economics at LSE), Dr Simon Usherwood (Deputy Director at UK In A Changing Europe, the leading Brexit think-tank), Hari Prabu (Policy and Events Officer at the Creative Industries Federation) and Katharine Hamnett CBE.
Here are some of the key issues raised during the evening to illuminate what’s in store for fashion with the UK set to leave the European Union*.
From mess up to dress up
Ms Hamnett gave the keynote speech, which decried Brexit but equally promoted the creativity and quality associated with the British fashion industry. She discussed how unique dressing-up boxes are to the UK and how this starts the creative process at a very young age. She was, however, very concerned that the uncertainty of Brexit would see ‘brand Britain’ greatly devalued.
Long-term questions remain
The Question Time-style questions to the panel which followed covered all kinds of concerns from across the fashion industry including visas, free movement of people, telephone and data roaming charges, equality and diversity legislation and initiatives, taxation, GDPR and IP protection.
For many of the legal issues, the answer (following the obvious “it’s not yet clear…”) lies in the Withdrawal Act of 2018, which confirms that all law will remain the same in the UK post-Brexit — at least until or unless Parliament specifies otherwise. While this provides some short-term reassurance of predictability, there’s no way of knowing long-term how political, economic and social pressures will affect the law.
Professor Dhingra listed factors which significantly affect the fashion industry and which will be exacerbated by Brexit, including the exchange rate, tariffs, quality standards, lack of movement of people and falling wages per hour. Mr Prabu’s concerns were that difficulties will arise in sourcing the best people for the UK industry on both a part-time or full-time basis if visas and travel restrictions make it difficult to attract and employ anyone outside of the UK.
Potential IP issues
For my part, I outlined the likely added layer of protection (and therefore cost) that could face SMEs which require protection for trade marks and designs in the UK and EU in the future. Furthermore, as the UK legislation and practice on IP diverges further from that of the EU, it’ll be increasingly difficult to advise clients with certainty about EU protection.
Light at the end of the tunnel?
For the audience, which was largely made up of SMEs, the fear of added cost and administrative hassle in every aspect of their business was clear. However, according to the British Fashion Council, UK fashion brand equity is worth £202m each year, which hopefully means that politicians will listen to the industry’s concerns and take appropriate action.
The final question from the floor sought to see if the panel could be any more optimistic and state one positive outcome of Brexit. While there weren’t many, returning to Ms Hamnett’s original point, the UK is renowned for creativity and craftsmanship. Having to focus on our national artisan skills may be a light at the end of the tunnel. Certainly, the timing of London Craft week couldn’t be better!
You can also watch the full Fashion and Brexit Question Time event back here.