SIR PAUL SMITH ON THE CRI­SIS IN FASH­ION

Vet­eran Bri­tish de­signer Sir Paul Smith shares his fears about Covid’s ef­fects on the fash­ion in­dus­try with Melissa Twigg

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page -

Sir Paul Smith has warned that the ef­fects of the Covid-19 cri­sis are hav­ing a “dev­as­tat­ing” im­pact on the fash­ion in­dus­try. “It’s been a very dif­fi­cult few months not just for fash­ion but for many in­dus­tries,” the vet­eran Bri­tish de­signer tells The Daily Tele­graph, “the strong like­li­hood of a sec­ond wave will quite rightly make peo­ple even more ner­vous.”

Coats, hand­bags and dresses may not have been the first things peo­ple wor­ried about when Boris John­son nudged Eng­land back in the di­rec­tion of lock­down on Tues­day evening.

But while 10pm restau­rant clo­sures and a re­turn to work­ing from home will hit hos­pi­tal­ity harder than most, it is still a dev­as­tat­ing blow for the fash­ion in­dus­try – par­tic­u­larly since re­tail­ers and de­sign­ers were just be­gin­ning to find their feet again af­ter a rocky sum­mer.

“Foot­fall in cities across the world is down enor­mously and we have shops in many ma­jor cities,” adds Sir Paul. “Yes, sales on­line have in­creased but not enough to com­pen­sate for the deficit felt in shops.

“Land­lords have to un­der­stand they will have empty prop­er­ties un­less they help out ur­gently. Dur­ing my 50 years there have been many chal­lenges but I have to ad­mit none as dev­as­tat­ing as this one [but] I’m de­lighted that the loy­alty to Paul Smith is strong and we are sure that we can weather this storm.”

It is not only de­sign­ers that are in trou­ble. Em­ploy­ees across the fash­ion in­dus­try – from styling to re­tail – have strug­gled for the last six months and are now look­ing down the bar­rel of a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult win­ter, as Bri­tons are be­ing urged to stay at home.

“The past few months have been very chal­leng­ing for all of us,” Caro­line Rush, the CEO of the Bri­tish Fash­ion Coun­cil, adds. “It is now more im­por­tant than ever for ev­ery­one to play their part, in or­der to get the coun­try and the econ­omy go­ing again, de­spite the dif­fi­cul­ties we will face. For the fash­ion in­dus­try, the na­tional lock­down, cou­pled with an im­por­tant drop in con­sumer de­mand meant that a lot of busi­nesses face un­cer­tainty.”

Ear­lier this year, the

Bri­tish Fash­ion Coun­cil re­leased sta­tis­tics show­ing that the pan­demic would hit fash­ion twice as hard as the UK over­all, wip­ing out all of the growth achieved by the in­dus­try over the last decade.

If you in­clude sup­ply chains, fash­ion em­ploys al­most 1pc of the Bri­tish pop­u­la­tion, and pre­dicted job losses of nearly quar­ter of a mil­lion and rev­enue losses of £30bn will re­ver­ber­ate through the econ­omy.

As con­sumers tighten their belts, an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of cre­ative ta­lent is also un­der threat. The gov­ern­ment may have laid out a range of sup­port schemes, but fash­ion brands have largely slipped through the cracks – hence, on Tues­day, the BFC an­nounced a sec­ond round of fund­ing for their Foun­da­tion Fash­ion Fund, which has dis­trib­uted grants to 30 dif­fer­ent Bri­tish de­sign­ers in­clud­ing Molly God­dard, Emilia Wick­stead and Preen by Thorn­ton Bregazzi.

“The BFC man­aged to fund-raise £1.5m to al­lo­cate to busi­nesses and in­di­vid­u­als in need. How­ever this is only a drop in the ocean and much more sup­port is needed,” says Rush. “We have asked the Gov­ern­ment to con­sider the fu­ture of the sec­tor through a series of mea­sures which in­clude fund­ing to SMEs, R&D fund­ing for clean growth, ac­cess to fi­nance to de-risk busi­nesses and mora­to­rium on pay­ment of duty and tar­iffs to sup­port the restart of in­ter­na­tional sup­ply chains.”

The longer the pan­demic goes on for, the more likely it is that we will see a com­plete re­struc­tur­ing of the in­dus­try, start­ing with where and how we shop and end­ing with what we buy and why. “The pre-Covid model of glitzy flag­ship city-cen­tre des­ti­na­tion stores will have to make way for a more be­spoke so­lu­tion, with a flavour of the lo­cal vil­lage shop where ser­vice and com­mu­nity are cen­tral pil­lars of the busi­ness strat­egy,” says Ta­mara Cin­cik the founder of gov­ern­ment lob­by­ing firm Fash­ion Roundtable.

“But our re­tail work­force, many of them women with car­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, are at real risk of los­ing their jobs as the drive to on­line shop­ping in­creases, as it won’t bring the same kinds of jobs for the same kinds of work­ers. We need to ad­dress how we not only mit­i­gate against the virus, but also how we sup­port our work­ers.”

On a week­end that saw the last of the sum­mer sun­shine and a range of colour­ful, thought­ful col­lec­tions from Lon­don Fash­ion Week de­sign­ers, there was hope in the air – and an uptick in vis­i­tors buy­ing clothes for the new sea­son ahead. But with Tues­day’s grim pro­nounce­ments now ring­ing in ev­ery­one’s ears, any be­lief that au­tumn sales will be bet­ter than lack­lus­tre ones we saw over the sum­mer have been dashed.

“We are in con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the Gov­ern­ment,” says Rush, “so we can make sure that they un­der­stand the se­ri­ous chal­lenges our in­dus­try faces in both the short and long term.”

Sir Paul Smith, above, says the pan­demic has cre­ated the big­gest dev­as­ta­tion in his 50 years in the fash­ion busi­ness

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