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Fashion Icon Katharine Hamnett Pauses EU Sales Due To "Catastrophic" Post-Brexit Paperwork

Fashion Icon Katharine Hamnett Pauses EU Sales Due To 'Catastrophic' Post-Brexit Paperwork
4 min read

Exclusive: Designer Katharine Hamnett has warned that UK fashion businesses are already closing as a result of post-Brexit paperwork, and that she herself has been forced to pause sales to the bloc.

In an interview with PoliticsHome, Hamnett said that VAT and handling costs, that have applied to exports to the EU since the UK left the Brexit transition period on January 1st, have made selling to Europe more complex and expensive, and were forcing customers to cancel orders.

“We have paused shipping to the EU since about mid-January," she said.

"These are dear, loyal customers. We can’t lose Europe. It’s a big market for us.

“But at the moment, with the combined VAT and handling charges, which come to about 30%, we are trying to look at how we can make this more affordable for customer.

“Maybe we’ll have to absorb this ourselves and that’d take a huge hit. It’s extremely worrying”Hamnett, who rose to prominence in the 1980s with her t-shirts printed with bold, political slogans, which were worn by George Michael, model Naomi Campbell and Queen's Roger Taylor, is one of the biggest names in the British fashion industry.

In 1984 she famously wore a t-shirt featuring the slogan "58% Don’t Want Pershing", referencing a public opinion poll relating to the proliferation of nuclear missiles in Europe, to meet then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher at a Downing Street reception. 

Hamnett told PoliticsHome that the new red tape facing British fashion businesses was “a catastrophe" and had already forced some to close just weeks into the UK's new relationship with the EU.

“Small to medium sized businesses are going to the wall because they don’t have cash reserves," she said.

“It’s tough making in the UK. More businesses want to make ethical and sustainable clothing and that’s expensive. Margins are very tight and something like this tips them over the edge.

"Some already are closing because they can’t survive. It’s already taking its toll on future generations”.Hamnett said that short of renegotiating its free trade agreement with the EU, the government should give the fashion industry financial support proportional to the £23 million package it has made available for seafood exporters affected by post-Brexit disruption.

The industry contributes around £35 billion to GDP every year and employs nearly one million people.

“All the little and independent shops are going to go. The high street will probably soon just consist of chains which have suffered but survived. It’ll be desolation in the market place," she said.

Hamnett has been part of a chorus of prominent voices in the British fashion industry warning ministers of the damage being done by the terms of the UK's new trading relationship with EU.

Earlier this month, over 400 including Hamnett and models Twiggy and Yasmin Le Bon signed an open letter to the government telling it that the fashion industry "more to UK GDP than fishing, music, film and motor industries combined" and needed improved trading terms to avoid disaster.

Isabel Ettedgui, chief executive of London-based store Connolly, said the new barriers to EU trade risked "the possible closure of a 185-year-old company that holds the Royal Warrant".

It's not just paperwork that is worrying the fashion industry.

New restrictions on UK performers and artists travelling in the EU, which the music industry says makes touring in Europe much more difficult and expensive for British performers, will make accepting work at short notice impossible for British models, Le Bon warned this month.

"I have been working continually in this industry for the past 37 years," she said.

"It works in a very particular way, with jobs being confirmed literally at the last minute. I may get a call, make a decision and be at the airport within two hours".

A creative industries roundtable hosted by Labour this week heard that performers were being forced to wait up to 15 days to secure the documentation they needed to perform on the continent.

Hamnett said she was worried that the world-renowned British fashion industry would be cut off from Europe if the terms of the UK's relationship with the EU were not changed.

“We have such brilliant designers in this country," she told PoliticsHome.

"Historically, we have produced more than any other in the world, possibly apart from France.

"Just look at the people who have headed up hottest global brands of this century, brands like Dior, Celine or Fendi. Brits are integrated into all of that.

“It’s so weird. I just don’t understand how we let this happen to ourselves”.

The government has not responded to PoliticsHome's request for comment.

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