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Talking Business: Fashion will lose out if we leave the EU

Frances Corner

For decades, the British fashion industry has set the global agenda and today our labels are among the most desirable, respected and loved on the planet.

From long-established names such as Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney, Burberry and Alexander McQueen, to the newest designer talent, such as James Long, William Tempest and Sophia Webster, British fashion is defined by its forward-thinking, daring and creative approach.

Fashion, and its intrinsic relationship to our economy, social impact, creative education and sense of identity, is vital to Britain. Central to our success is the ability to keep pace and stay competitive, and our membership of the European Union underpins that.

Fashion is a global business, so the movement of people and their ideas is requisite in facilitating innovation and creativity, as well as maintaining and developing skills.

Almost 75% of British exports of clothing, hats and footwear go to countries across the EU

As the head of one of Britain’s leading fashion schools, I see the commitment and excitement in young people as they arrive on their first day dreaming of where a fashion career could take them. Maintaining mobility supports collaboration and connectivity as well as growth of businesses by ensuring recruitment of talent. It’s my belief that should we leave the EU, our UK fashion talent would be less accessible to the continent’s businesses and lose out to positions at global brands based in Europe. (Continues below the ad)

Not only does the EU offer fantastic opportunities for our students, it also allows us to welcome those from around the EU to study at the London College of Fashion. This convergence of ideas, cultures and heritage is what enriches us all. It benefits all of our students and staff, and it ultimately benefits our creative industry and economy as we cultivate innovation.

The Worth project proactively facilitated the crossing of EU borders to bring fashion designers, manufacturers, craft makers and technology partners together to create new products and services. Without EU investment and funding, we would not be able to support these connections and this development. Projects like this directly benefit Britain, our fashion industry and our economy.

There is a lot at stake in this referendum. Almost 75% of British exports of clothing, hats and footwear go to countries across the EU and its single market of 500 million consumers, government research shows. This is worth a staggering £5bn to our economy. Free trading also means fashion businesses in the UK benefit from less bureaucracy while receiving better deals on tariffs and regulation.

Outside the EU, the UK’s position in fashion would be significantly diminished. The European internal market is big enough to thrive without us and, although I have no doubt that London fashion would continue to be seen as relevant, it would be considered alongside of a number of competitors and potential partners from across the world.

And while our access to trade is not confined to the EU, our influence is certainly elevated because of it. The EU has signed free trade agreements on our behalf with more than 50 countries and is negotiating deals with the US, Australia and Japan too. Being a part of the EU gives us this negotiating power and I feel strongly that we need to maintain this level of sway and remain part of the world’s biggest market.

By leaving the single market – as the Vote Leave campaign has confirmed it wants to do – we would no longer be part of the EU’s free trade agreements, so we would have to renegotiate. For me, this would mark a backwards step and I want to see our UK fashion industry leading, not following behind.

Ultimately, this referendum comes down to whether we want continued prosperity, connectivity, innovation and growth for our country. Or whether we want uncertainty. Britain sits at the heart of the global fashion industry and we are proud of that. So that’s why I will be voting to keep Britain in the EU on June 23.

Frances Corner is pro vice-chancellor of University of the Arts London and head of London College of Fashion

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