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Fashion deserves a seat at the table

Caroline Nodder

If you take the most widely accepted definition of a recession - two consecutive quarters of negative growth for a country’s GDP - then we came out of recession at the end of 2009.

If you take the most widely accepted definition of a recession - two consecutive quarters of negative growth for a country’s GDP - then we came out of recession at the end of 2009.

But in practical terms I don’t think there are many people working in fashion today who would say that the end of 2009 marked the lowest point for retail. In the words of one well-known industry figure I spoke to last week: “That wasn’t the recession - THIS is the recession.”

The lag we are experiencing between the economists’ view of the market and the activity of shoppers means that only now are things really starting to bite at the tills. Many consumers are experiencing the public sector cuts and rising unemployment levels first hand, and even the better-off are playing a waiting game. The upshot is that Sales have been brought forward, and discount offers have become the norm.

So what should be done?

David Cameron has so far said some pretty encouraging things, but done very little in practical terms to help our sector. The somewhat Marmite appointment of Mary Portas to look at the high street has a slight aroma of the Blairite ‘throw a celebrity at the problem’ modus operandi and beyond that we have no other retail-friendly plans afoot. I think fashion deserves more than that.

To get us out of this decline, UK plc needs to play to its strengths. It must make the most of the growing spending power from China and Russia, for example, much of which is centred on fashion, invest in home-grown skills to plug the manufacturing gaps, and big up Brand Britain.
But equally, we as an industry don’t bang our drum loudly enough. Fashion directly contributes £21bn to the UK economy every year, yet we rarely get a seat at the table when it comes to UK plc. For that kind of money, we at least deserve a bit of the Government’s time.

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