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How are fashion retailers tackling Brexit uncertainty?

While we wait to find out what the business landscape will look like post-Brexit, two retailers detail how they are approaching retailing in a world of unknowns.

As the government wrangles with the legal complexities of triggering article 50, fashion retailers have been left operating in a post-Brexit world of economic and political uncertainty. And the election of Donald Trump as the 45th US president has created yet more. Question marks hang over everything, from his approach to trade to foreign policy. Left facing an increasingly volatile landscape, how are retailers ensuring their businesses remain successful?

Speaking at The Economist’s ‘Business after Brexit’ event in London last week, Cath Kidston chief executive Kenny Wilson urged retailers not to put their plans on ice. He said the British lifestyle brand would be pushing forward with ambitious investment and international expansion: “What I’ve learnt in really uncertain times is that you’ve got to create your own certainty,” he said.

“There’s a risk that you can be so uncertain, you end up doing nothing. But you have to keep a business moving forward. We’re investing in our IT systems, we’re investing in more stores in the UK and across Asia, we’re investing in people, we’re investing in pushing our web technology forward.”

He added: “I’m not sitting and waiting for someone to tell me what the answer is, we’re getting on. Because we buy in dollars, the cost of our product is 14% more expensive than it was, but we’ve got to get on with that, we’re already working back with our suppliers and going back through the supply chain to help minimise price rises in the UK, because I think fundamentally the market here will be tough.”

However, Wilson admitted he was concerned about the free movement of people, fearing many EU nationals working within British retailers have been left feeling unwelcome after the vote. His concerns were shared by many of the 300 businesses and stakeholders Drapers consulted for a recent survey on the fashion industry’s most pressing issues surrounding the decision to leave the EU. Securing favourable trade agreements, ensuring the free movement of people and maintaining funds for education topped the industry’s list of concerns.

Also speaking at the The Economist event, Sian Keane, vice-president for talent and people at Farfetch UK, said the company has been accessing how many staff may choose to leave the business if the government changes visa arrangements. 

“We are protected to a degree from the impact of Brexit because our talent is global and we have thought of ourselves as a global business since day one,” she said. “Having said that, we’ve been doing a lot of analysis around their family status, because relationships these days are global, so they might be British but their families might not be, and they might choose to leave us as a result of Brexit.”

However, she stressed the etailer would not be making any “rash decisions”: ”There’s still a huge amount of talent in the technology sector within Britain and we’re not suddenly having to make a huge difference in our strategy because of Brexit.” 

Last month, Drapers published the findings of our exclusive Brexit survey, detailing what members of the fashion industry would like to see the government prioritise in the negotiations to leave the EU. We have now submitted the findings as written evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry into the impact of Brexit on the creative industries, tourism and the digital single market. We will update you on the outcome of the inquiry when it reports in the New Year. In the meantime, if you have any views you would like to share, please email drapers@emap.com 

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