What Does Brexit Mean For The Future Of British Fashion?

The future for Britain’s fashion industry suddenly looks very different.

You probably don’t need to be told that yesterday’s referendum was the biggest political event of our lifetimes, but it’s still worth repeating. The implications and reverberations of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union are going to be felt by pretty much everyone in both Britain and Europe. It may have been lost in the political fighting and the dire warnings from economists and international figures, but Britain’s creative industries were vocal and clear in their support for Britain to vote Remain. 96% of members of the Creative Industries Federation backed Remain, the British Fashion Council came out overwhelmingly in favour of staying, and countless artists, musicians, designers and photographers nailed their colours to the mast. 

Earlier this month, at London Collections: Men, British fashion’s commitment to remaining in the EU was made clear as designers filled their shows with pro-Europe and pro-Remain iconography. There were Christopher Raeburn’s patches, which featured prominently on sweatshirts, hoodies and tees in his show. Daniel W Fletcher’s show was a mock-protest; the word ‘STAY’ emblazoned on jackets and banners and the European Union flag flying high. Other designers like Patrick Grant (E. Tautz), and Sid Bryan and Cozette McCreery (SIBLING) ended their shows in white T-shirts carrying a simple slogan: IN. LC:M is one of the biggest events in the British fashion calendar and designers used this season’s to come out fighting for remain. Now, with the result known and their fears confirmed, the future for Britain’s fashion industry suddenly looks very different.


Perhaps the biggest implications for British fashion will come from the end of the freedom of movement that is so integral to the European Union. London’s status as a world leader in fashion, and the fact that it is home to institutions like Central St Martin’s and the London College of Fashion, means that it has always attracted some of the best and the brightest budding designers from across the world. If visas for EU students and stricter immigration controls are enforced—as the Leave campaign said they wanted—future generations of creatives from across the world could be turned away from Britain, and London’s visionary status could be under threat. 

In a statement today Nigel Carrington, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Arts London, said “leaving the EU will undoubtedly have an impact on UAL in the longer-term” before mentioning their “ongoing commitment to European collaboration and to our student body.” Universities and colleges like the University of the Arts London will obviously continue to try and ensure that Europe’s best young designers are able to come to England and study, but in this new post-Brexit climate, it’s going to be a much harder fight. 

As well as a harsher approach to immigration and new economic factors, Britain’s vote to Leave marks a huge cultural shift. Cozette McCreery, one of the designers behind SIBLING, said that “SIBLING has been and will always be about inclusion. Both Sid and myself consider ourselves European and shall continue to do so with or without official EU membership”. That idea of inclusion and cooperation against division and isolation was a key reason for many people to vote Remain. Last night’s result looks like a victory for the latter, and the attitude of inclusion that has been so important to British fashion’s success could be lost.

future generations of creatives from across the world could be turned away from Britain, and London’s visionary status could be under threat. 

One of the biggest talking points during the referendum campaign was the economy, and that’s obviously going to impact the fashion sector as well. We’ve already seen the value of the pound collapse and the markets panic after Britain voted to leave. There are more potential problems on the way, though. Leaving the EU could mean tariffs being put on imports and exports, which would mean higher prices and so potentially fewer sales. It’s important to remember that fashion is an industry, and these economic factors are the boring but really important bit that allows designers to pay rent, eat and continue working. Last night’s vote for Brexit could massively change that, and there might be a generation of exiting designers who are forced to down tools because the economic situation is so much more difficult. 

The short answer is that no one knows exactly how this vote will change fashion in London. We're staring down the barrel of months of negotiations, changes in government and huge shifts in the way the country is run. London’s status as a fashion capital has been driven by its openness and inclusivity as well as the economic ease of being so closely linked to Paris, Berlin and Milan. Post-Brexit, this could all be at risk, and that makes today a dark day for the creative industries in Britain. 

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