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Last Friday, I woke up with the sad news that UK chose to leave the European Union. Even though I wasn’t completely surprised, as the polls pointed to it, I hoped that in the end, the Remain would win by a tiny margin. Since then, the political and economic uncertainty mood took over, reinforced by lots of media drama, which doesn’t help to relieve a situation that claims for calmness, patience and rationality – ok, very hard to achieve when there is a million things to sort out, however, it is the shortest way to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
This post is a reflection about the perspectives of fashion and the creative industries, now worth £84.1 billion per year to the UK’s economy, with a growth rate two times higher than the overall economy. Unfortunately, it is one of the first to be weakened in moments of crisis. Add the fact that thousands of Europeans work in it, especially in London, and it is easy to visualise panic knocking on the door. A poll made by the British Fashion Council revealed that 90% of the designers were in favour of staying in the EU. During the recent London Collections: Men they showed support with “Remain” T-shirts or posting their views on social media. Vivienne Westwood, Christopher Raeburn and Sibling were among them. Once the result was out, my Instagram timeline was inundated with pictures and messages posted by stylists, photographers, models, designers etc. regretting the outcomes. For most of them, and for who is looking from the outside, Brexit represents a vote against globalization and multiculturalism, two aspects deeply embedded in the fashion industry, where professionals and manufacturing come from diverse countries and products are sold around the world.
So, what happens next? It is still very early to tell as everything depends on the agreements the British government will settle with Europe. Right now, with the pound drop, shopping in London became cheaper and tourists can take even more advantage of the sales season. On the other hand, in the future, if European products suffer taxation, the city can lose its appeal as a shopping destination, since most of the brands, from luxury to fast-fashion, come from France, Italy, Spain and Sweden (Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Prada, Zara e H&M, to name a few).
Another two great issues are education and entrepreneurship. Until now, in both under and graduate levels, European students pay the same amount as the British ones, which is less than half of what people from outside the EU is charged. What will be the incentive to come over if they can go to Paris or Milan for a fraction of the price and stay legally after the course ends to pursue job opportunities or start a business? A real example: after my MA course (where in a class of about 30, only 4 people were British – that’s how internationalised the institutions are), all the Europeans who are creating a brand chose London as a base, since they can access intellectual and financial support programs for startups, most of them funded by the EU. The Centre for Fashion Enterprise, a kind of fashion incubator where I worked last year, is one of them – and relies on funding from Brussels.
The same principles can be applied in sectors such as design, architecture, arts, films, media and technology, especially in London where there is a huge market surrounding them. For these reasons, I believe that the best thing to do is having an optimistic view of the future and get together to fight for favourable agreements, as Rohan Silva, entrepreneur and founder of Second Home, a co-working space, suggested in this interview for Dezeen. On a personal level, I believe that the pressure from the economy and the financial market will prevail and in the end of the day it will be inevitable to ensure freedom of movement in order to get access to the single market, in other words, very few things will change.
I keep working on the development of my consulting company and dreaming about the day I’ll be able to hire a team and contribute to the growth and expansion of many brands. I’m not a helpless optimist, but I think the best answer for turbulent times is leaving fear behind and go after your projects with all the passion you have. Positive attitudes always open doors!