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The impact of the fashion industry on the UK economy

Tuesday 27th November sees the return of British Fashion Awards, held at the Savoy Theatre London. As the LadyM Presents Team will be in attendance we thought this weeks topic for BBC Radio Kent’s fashion slot was rather timely. The impact of the British fashion industry on the UK economy.

The impact of the fashion industry on the UK economy

In 2010 the value of the British fashion industry was £21bn a year to the UK economy. In September of 2010, “The Value of the UK Fashion Industry” report was commissioned by the British Fashion Council to seek, for the first time, an opportunity to quantify the true economic and social impact of the UK fashion industry.

The report, by economic consultants Oxford Economics, said the UK fashion industry is the largest employer of all the creative industries, directly employing 816,000 people. The UK has some of the best fashion colleges, designers and retailers in the world.

London Fashion Week makes £20m a year for the capital and draws in orders of £100 million. The week, held around the capital, with a focus at Somerset House, drives innovation and growth within the industry itself, as well as attracting millions of visitors from across the globe to the UK every year.

Fashion is not just about shopping; it’s about communication, employment, tourism and all the surrounding services that it takes to run a business. So the fashion industry is not just about a pretty dress, it’s the 15th largest industry (out of 81) in the UK.


We’ve mentioned celebrity fashion endorsement or “design” but the media world has opened up our access to fashion. With celebrities in the spot light, being asked “who they are wearing?” to the “Kate Effect”. British Fashion hasn’t done badly out of it. The Middleton sisters are well known to wear British high street and UK designer labels. In the height of the focus on the Duchess of Cambridge on her first tour of the UK, online sales of pieces she was seen wearing rose by 500% just hours after being snapped in her latest styled outfit. British fashion brands are seen around the world as something special, with heritage, such as Mulberry, Burberry and Temperley. They are known for their quality and style and are much coveted, especially by the Asian market.

Designer Labels

What we see on the catwalk isn’t what we all end up wearing. Firstly we don’t have the budget to have a designer wardrobe (we wish), but the collections showcased at LFW are often to profile a designers work; with diffusion lines coming out of their main lines. These diffusion lines that hit the British high street are solidifying the link between high end fashion designer labels with the regular shopper. We’ve seen Somerset by Alice Temperley in John Lewis, Henry Holland in Debenhams, even celebrities are getting in on the act with The Kardashians in Dorothy Perkins.

There are those who can afford the designer labels and a huge amount of tourists each year flock to the UK to snap up British fashion labels. Nothing beats buying direct from flagship stores in London rather than online. There is also the expansion of fashion brands into other product lines beyond clothing. The only time we can afford Jimmy Choo’s is in their sumptuous perfume. Plus there are accessories and homeware lines from designers too. A Paul Smith ipad cover anyone?

UK Manufacturing

As well as buying British fashion, the labels themselves need to support the UK economy, with manufacturing based here in the UK. Mary Portas spurred a revival of the lingerie industry in the north of England with her “Kinky Knickers” brand and British stalwarts Clarks and Barbour continue to manufacture in the UK.

The impact of the recession and limited access to investment for the fashion manufacturing and designer sectors has clearly lead to a reduction in the amount of fashion houses manufacturing in Britain. But it was reported in February this year, that labels such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Prada are making a beeline for Britain’s wool, footwear and leather factories, which are renowned for their specialist expertise in producing quality goods. (Reuters)

Renewed interest in manufacturing high-quality specialist products has seen a growing number of British designers explore their local options and help to fund apprenticeships to keep the industry growing, a welcome change after 15 years of steady decline. Burberry run their own apprenticeship scheme at their Castleford trench coat factory.

Burberry, Mulberry, Victoria Beckham and Tillman’s own Aquascutum and Jaeger brands all happily sew “Made in Britain” on their products. But there needs to be in the long term a programme to incentivise and encourage growth of UK manufacturing base across the fashion industry, to build growth for the British economy.

Some Interesting Numbers

  • £7bn – Projected value of UK online fashion sales by 2015
  • 20% – Annual growth of UK designer clothing sales in the last decade
  • £41m – Annual spend on UK fashion sector by overseas ‘shopper tourists’
  • £200m – Estimated value of UK fashion’s domestic brand equity

Source: British Fashion Council report, February 2012

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