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Global market mustn’t become tangled in red tape

We all remember the Daily Mail’s focus on ‘bonkers Europe’ in the 1990s, which culminated in the infamous ‘bent bananas regulation’ that, as it turned out, never actually existed.

Setting aside the sensationalist journalism of that era, there is a serious message in my reminiscence, as today’s fashion business is probably more reliant than ever before on the rules and regulations of the European state.

The very nature of the fashion supply chain has always meant interaction with a variety of jurisdictions for import/export reasons, but with many retailers now selling goods across Europe this has added to the regulatory burden significantly.

And so it is that we bring you news of the impact labelling regulations agreed by the European Parliament are having on manufacturers, following a phone call we received from a UK MEP who had his attention drawn to the issue by companies in his constituency.

As ever with regulations like this, the exact wording seems to have been drafted without attention to the way clothes are made and sold in Europe. It requires that items are labelled in every language spoken in the countries they might be sold in, which could mean up to 23 languages. Given the detail required on labels already – origin and fabric content – this could result in some fairly large clothing tags. Akin, perhaps, to the ridiculous set of instruction manuals produced in every conceivable language that come with electrical equipment.

Equally concerning is the fact the rule states that the label should be ‘visible at the point of sale’, so cellophane-packaged shirts, for example, might need extra labelling on the outside. But most concerning are the vagaries of the ‘soft launch’ initiated in May, whereby some distributors are already implementing the regulation for all incoming goods from now on (even though the legislation will not be legally enforceable until 2014).

This puts UK manufacturers in a tricky position, with goods already in the pipeline from the Far East that are not compliant in theory now at risk of being rejected.

As ever with these things the industry will, I am sure, work towards a successful solution, but the situation does highlight the need for clarity to protect UK clothing manufacturers from unnecessary costs and make sure regulations work in practice.

It seems a shame that too little account was paid to how the fashion industry operates, and communication regarding how to comply and exactly what the regulation means for UK companies has been sparse.

As fashion becomes increasingly global this situation is likely to rear its head more often, and I would appeal for an element of common sense to make sure we don’t end up with a lot of extra red tape for no good reason.

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