Fashion In The Time Of Brexit: What's Next

Since the UK's surprising vote out of Europe in June, the reaction among the fashion industry has been mostly negative, prompting fears that center around immigration and the devaluation of the Pound, the threat of the end of free trade, clothing price increases and the loss of foreign talent.

In a timely event, considering we’ve had the summer to digest, the British Fashion Council’s Fashion Trust held a talk at London’s South Kensington Club titled ‘Brexit: First Reactions’ hosted by BFC CEO Caroline Rush and featuring a talk with Carmen, Fashion Trust benefactor, and Hugh Devlin, a leading high-fashion lawyer who has worked with many designers and has overseen some of the biggest deals in the industry. Press, designers, business and brand owners attended the talk.

While Carmen assured us she agrees that Brexit wasn’t necessarily the best outcome, her outlook is far more positive than most. It may have something to do with the fact that she steered her own business during a military coup de é’tat attempt in her native Caracas in the nineties, but Carmen advised the crowd to shrug it off and focus on what they can control. Namely, technology and good old-fashioned salesmanship.

“Forget about Brexit for a second, and empower personal shoppers, sales and customer care people if you want your fashion business to succeed. What England – and Europe – lacks, is a sense of pride in selling. Everyone wants to be a stylist. What happened with personal shoppers?” The statement drew chuckles from the crowd, who are all too aware of this focus on hierarchy and prestige in the industry.

“Our business without salespeople would be nothing. We should make it fun and glamorous for them too. They are the number-one people. There’s creativity and there’s talent, but what do we do with that if we cannot sell our talent?”, Carmen questioned.

Hugh recalled an example from a conversation with Carmen regarding the hospitality industry. “People go to hotelier schools, and they learn several languages, and it is understood that they start at the bottom, as a waiter or as a busboy, but there’s always a sense of pride. In fashion however it seems there is a stigma attached to anything that’s not at the top of your game.”

To contrast Carmen adds that in Spain and Latin America, pride of service comes naturally. “We overdo it sometimes, but it’s time to bring some humility back to the industry.”

"Everyone wants to be a stylist. What happened with personal shoppers?"

As the talk went on to how to use technology to strengthen the B2C relationship, Instagram naturally came into question, with Carmen being adamant that the platform is great for selling and promoting your brand. You just have to get creative. She admits that she often gets tagged randomly by brands as a call to discover the product, and sometimes it works.

When expanding, Carmen advised the businesses in the audience to control growth and try to get the maximum of direct sales, by taking higher margins with their wholesale accounts to lessen risk.

She advised that 70% own-sales revenue and 30% wholesale would be the ultimate goal. “The more you depend on wholesale, the more vulnerable you are.”

While the post-Brexit kinks get ironed out, and we figure out a way to keep attracting and retaining talent in London, it seems there are things we can do to keep businesses strong. In essence, get back to basics. Just focus on the sell, whether on the floor or on the feed.