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Editor's Comment: Education vital to any Brexit decision

Keely Stocker

The big talking point this week has of course been Brexit. Following prime minister David Cameron’s announcement that a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union is to be held on June 23, divisions across the country have come to the surface.

From my conversations with business leaders this week it seems many feel on a personal level that the answer is to follow London mayor Boris Johnson and agree that it is time for the UK to take its leave.

However, emotion aside, when it comes to business – and in particular retail – the consensus is that remaining in the EU is vital to ensuring the UK can compete on a level playing field. And as we went to press a poll on drapersonline.com showed 76% of you agree.

Being part of the European single market gives retailers the advantage of free trade, as well as more tangible benefits such as tax breaks because of free movement that ultimately helps any retailer with international expansion, not just through stores but also online. If we leave, supply chains will feel the impact on importing and exporting goods, as well as supplying the consumer.

The argument to leave does highlight that, as more and more countries have joined the EU, Britain’s influence diminishes.

But, as one seasoned industry insider said to me this week: “Surely it’s better to be on side influencing the decisions than be an angry terrier yapping from the outside?”

What is paramount is that fashion and footwear retailers can make an informed choice about whether to stay or go. This is something we will look at in more depth in the weeks and months leading up to the referendum.

In other news this week, it has been suggested to us that former Marks & Spencer womenswear boss Frances Russell could join Amazon as early as mid-March to lead the etailer’s own-label fashion push over here. While Russell’s experience will no doubt be great for the etailer, it will be interesting to see how she tackles the own-brand challenge.

Observers have said this is clear signal of Amazon’s desire to become a big player in the global fashion market. Although there is no doubt this global player is one to watch and will have a huge impact on the market in some way, it is not the first time Amazon has made this statement.

Amazon started selling clothing on its US website back in 2002 and launched the UK counterpart Amazon.co.uk/clothing in 2008. In 2012 it was reported that the business was looking at acquiring Asos.com to ramp up its fashion offer and in that same year it launched its premium arm, Amazon.co.uk/premium, selling brands such as 7 For All Mankind, Hudson and Pringle of Scotland.

Fast forward to 2013 and Amazon proved that it could sell fashion – the last week in November was its biggest week ever for fashion sales by volume, selling more than 1 million items of clothing and footwear. In 2014 the etail giant spoke of its intentions to own the UK fashion market when it announced plans to open its 46,000 sq ft photography studio in Shoreditch, east London. The studio opened last summer, followed in November with a fashion campaign. And now we have Russell’s appointment.

The pace is picking up. Yet it is surprising that such a dynamic, fast-paced, ahead-of-the-game business has taken eight years to get to this point. In 2008, the same year Amazon launched its UK clothing arm, another ecommerce player, fast fashion etailer Missguided, also made its debut. It may in no way reach the level of traffic that Amazon has but it is much more likely to be on a young consumer’s list of places to shop for fashion in the UK today.

From the huge volume of traffic to its site, Amazon will of course make sales on fashion product – and it seems brands the etailer is selling have recognised this. However, is Amazon seen as a fashion player by the consumer? I would say not yet. So getting this message across has got to be the biggest focus for Amazon this year. The launch of the fashion campaign shows it recognises the need to prove not just to brands but also to consumers that it is a serious fashion player.

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