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Sidelined no More, Superdry Founder Puts Fashion at Center of Brexit Referendum

This weekend, fashion finally made its voice heard in the now deafening Brexit debate. Multimillionaire Julian Dunkerton, who co-founded Superdry, said he was making a donation to the People’s Vote campaign of 1 million pounds ($1.28 million). This substantial sum will go toward campaigning for a second referendum on Brexit—and it has already been splashed across the front pages of national papers and debated by members of Cabinet.

Dunkerton, in an interview with The Observer, said the People’s Vote campaign represented a “genuine chance to turn this around” and claimed that if Brexit had happened 20 years earlier, his brand would never have been a success.

British fashion, it is widely agreed, will be negatively impacted by Brexit—and yet its plight has roundly been ignored by those in power who focus on other, often smaller, industries.

The domestic market value of the fashion industry has been put at 66 billion pounds ($84.4 billion) and it employs 555,000 people around the country. The fishing industry, by comparison, is worth 700 million pounds ($894.6 million) and employs 28,000. And yet in the debate around Brexit, fashion has been barely mentioned, while politicians, newspaper commentators and think tanks focus on agriculture, finance, fishing and food.

This despite the fact that fashion stands to lose more from a hard Brexit than most. More than 90 percent of creative directors in London voted to “Remain” in June 2016, according to a survey by the British Fashion Council. And in a recent Fashion Roundtable white paper, an overwhelming 80 percent of respondents—which included British Vogue editors and tutors from the Design Council and London College of Fashion—said they felt Brexit would be bad for fashion in the U.K. and EU. So why isn’t the industry being heard?

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Tamara Cincik, a political campaigner and renowned British stylist, launched Fashion Roundtable as a forum for experts in fashion and business to engage with the government on behalf of the industry.

“I came to visceral realization while working in Westminster that the voices of other sectors were being consistently heard—while fashion makes more for the UK and global economies than most of them, but has had far less of a political reach,” she said.

Cincik believes the core issue is that fashion is still not taken seriously by those in power. “When Sarah Sands, the editor for the BBC Radio 4 Today program, laughs and says of course John Humphries [the presenter] would know more about fishing, as would all of her editors, than fashion, therein is the bias and the problem,” she said. “Fishing makes 1.9 billion pounds [$2.4 billion] for the U.K., fashion makes 29.7 billion pounds [$3.45 billion]. All her editors should be briefed on the industry and the impacts that Brexit will have on us. Our analysis by Assay Corporate Finance, places a 38 percent loss to GDP from a hard Brexit, or 10 billion pounds [$12.8 billion] a year lost from fashion in the U.K. alone. The cost, the jobs, the value has to be brought home to politicians.”

However, there is now a growing group of politicians finally willing to stand up for fashion. Lisa Cameron is a Scottish National Party MP and chair of the APPG for Textiles and Fashion and she has been instrumental in strengthening fashion’s political voice and in pointing out its flaws.

“Fashion is yet to become a powerful lobbying force for a number of reasons,” she told Sourcing Journal. “Firstly, the industry is fragmented between individual designers and brands—and apart from British Fashion Council, and now Fashion Roundtable, it doesn’t have a rallying point, therefore it has yet to come up with a unified message that it wants to lobby parliament with. Although I believe enough of the industry is now frustrated enough with the current state of British politics that this is changing, but it will take the big designers and organizations to work together to create an impact.”

Cameron, like Cincik, believes that fashion suffers from institutionalized sexism and the assumption that is simply less serious than other industries.

“I think in Parliament, there is still a slight giggle when you mention fashion with politics, as they deem it is a non-political issue,” said Cameron. “However as soon as you mention the revenue that it brings in to the U.K. and the trade it does with other countries, the politicians shut up a little. No 10 and DIT [The Department of International Trade] know how powerful this sector is and I think there is more willingness than perhaps the industry realizes to engage with them in a political way.”

Cameron is the first to agree that if a hard, or even no-deal, Brexit is to go ahead then fashion will need assurances from the government and help in weathering the storm ahead —but she insists the industry will also need to meet politicians halfway.

“Fashion needs to start working around a single issue, such as visas for designers post Brexit,” Cameron said. “We will aim to ensure that the industry has a voice in the Brexit debate and at Westminster more generally, but fashion urgently needs to assert its key asks of government to ensure that its needs are not overshadowed in the current climate of Brexit.”