OPINION - This is what should be in the Labour and Conservative party manifestos

David Beckham  (Genevieve Leah)
David Beckham (Genevieve Leah)

Predictably, the general election seems to have got stuck in men-shouting-at-each-other mode, rather than any concrete ideas on policy. The poor old fashion industry, so often overlooked in spite of its not insubstantial contributions — ie, the £28.9 billion it adds to the UK economy — could certainly do with some manifesto promises.

London Fashion Week might be marking its 40th anniversary — with a mini programme of menswear events over this past weekend — but our designers are facing dicey futures. Matchesfashion collapsed into a messy administration earlier this year, Susie Cave’s much admired The Vampire’s Wife has gone under, while Roksanda Ilincic’s beloved label was recently sold to a white knight investor, which hopefully means she’ll reach her 20-year anniversary next year. But there’s a lot of support needed here, redundancies abound everywhere.

The British Fashion Council has set out its election stall, calling for financial support for our designers to reach international markets, as well as reducing the red tape they are beset with when it comes to trading and working with manufacturers within the EU.

It’s also loudly adding to the chorus of many by asking (again) for the Government to restore tax-free shopping, something which is driving tourists to shop in Paris and Milan rather than London, citing research which suggests that reintroducing the scheme would deliver additional revenue of £2.3 billion. Everyone from Burberry to Bicester Village has been lobbying for this change, it’s simply obstinate to keep on ignoring them.

Aside from this — we need a commitment to bringing the A of arts back into education — STEAM not STEM. Our creative industries are still world-class, but they won’t be for much longer if our children are all stuck in endless maths lessons rather than exploring creative subjects. If supported, the BFC predicts than an additional one million jobs could be created by 2030.

What else? Fashion Roundtable (FR), the think tank that sits as Secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ethics and Sustainability Impacts in Fashion, wants a greater commitment to British manufacturing, why for example aren’t we making our military and NHS uniforms in this country? Price is clearly a factor, but support our garment factories with stable and consistent orders (which these would provide) and the long-term employment and revenue opportunities are much stronger. We should be much prouder and louder about our manufacturing capabilities, the sector is small but mighty — we have factories in London creating couture-level pieces; Dior last week staged its Cruise show in Perthshire, employing Harris Tweed among other British brands to produce the collection. We must own, promote and invest in this skill.

FR is also mindful of the dire impact that excessive fashion production has on the environment. The BFC similarly underscores that the global apparel market is frequently identified as the third largest polluter in the world. In the UK we buy more clothes per person than any other EU country. The only way the brands behind the onslaught of stuff will start to take ownership for this is by regulation. France has recently passed legislation including an environmental tax on fast-fashion products.

If an incoming government wants to place a serious stake into the ground of environmental responsibility, cleaning up the murkier ends of the fashion industry is a pretty good place to start.

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