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Industry comment: We need to be bold after Brexit

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Agility, courage and determination will let businesses prosper after Brexit, despite the challenges, writes Lucy Reece-Raybould, CEO of the British Footwear Association.

Lucy Reece-Raybould CEO BFA

Lucy Reece-Raybould

Our future as a nation appears more confused and uncertain than ever. But this is when the UK is at its most formidable. Our determination to win drives us to succeed against the odds. You only have to look at the British footwear industry to know the truth in that statement.

Political leaders are focused on personal national agendas, reversing decades of globalisation, and threatening the established regime of global co-operation.

The re-emergence of trade barriers, particularly involving the US, China, the European Union, and Russia, is creating new threats, but it is also generating significant new opportunities. One BFA member has increased their US retail prices and notes the US as their largest and most profitable market after the UK in 2019.

The growth in global ecommerce, led by the rapid and relentless expansion of international sellers such as Amazon, Ebay, Alibaba and Zalando largely ignore national boundaries. This isn’t going to change, but we are seeing consumers making their way, albeit slowly, back to small high street stores.

Agility is going to be key to any successful business in the coming years. Well managed and well-resourced footwear businesses, with great brands, people and systems, who proactively plan for a range of outcomes, will prosper despite these challenging and volatile conditions. These agile footwear businesses will exploit new opportunities, move quickly to avoid threats and adapt to new trading rules.

Footwear industry leaders have little influence on politics, foreign currency exchange rates, the imposition of national trade barriers or the erosion of consumer confidence in these troubled times. We must not focus too much effort on things we cannot realistically change.

Instead, the BFA has been deeply engaged with the UK government over the last three years to repeatedly remind our political masters and their enabling civil servants that the UK footwear sector needs stable economic conditions, functioning infrastructure, the ability to retain a highly skilled workforce and support in overcoming international trade barriers.

Equally, the BFA has urged its members across the footwear sector to heed government advice on a wide range of measures designed to ease disruption at national borders, minimise trade friction, support non-UK staff and exploit sales opportunities beyond Europe in the post-Brexit era.

There is incredible value in our “British” mark, and the footwear industry can now look again at markets that for the last 46 years have seemed a challenging option when compared with the EU. If more than 80% of UK footwear exports go to the EU, then there is a massive opportunity for British exports in the far larger, rest of the world. The imposition of tariffs on Chinese footwear imports to the US is an amazing chance for BFA members that have British manufacturing facilities to export to the US.

Business is moving and morphing faster than ever. Even if three years ago something didn’t work, you must try and try again – together we need to be bold and go for it.


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