SPOTLIGHT: Brexit and modelling

You would have to be living under a rock not to know that on 23rd June 2016, the British public voted to leave the European Union. Brexit is a complicated, tangled knot that is likely going to affect every one of our daily lives individually, with high impacts on the industries that the UK is well known for, including our globally renowned fashion industry.

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The British fashion industry makes almost £30billion a year, success which is massively reliant on international trade. UK designers knew the negative impact that Brexit would have on their industry, with 90% voting remain. For models, the job is on such an international scale that you can easily be sent to a new country with less than three hour’s notice - whether that is in the EU or across the other side of the world. Visas are already a contentious issue for models, with many being advised to work illegally or have insufficient knowledge about the requirement for working visas (especially if a model was booked on an individual job abroad) - Brexit is going to make everything much more complicated.

It would have difficult to miss the back and forth between the government and the EU on how to actually ‘do’ Brexit, but it’s even more difficult to try and understand these complicated terms such as ‘backstop’. Theresa May has largely kept the withdrawal process a closed off process, holding votes on her Withdrawal Treaty at the last possible minute and letting the ‘clock count down’ in the hope of passing through an agreement that has been acknowledged to have negative effects on the UK.

A ‘hard Brexit’ means that the UK will leave the single market and customs union as well as the EU, meaning that the existing trade deals within fashion would disappear and fashion designer and houses would have to pay for trade within the EU, increasing the price of their clothes. ‘No deal’, means the UK will leave the EU without any agreements put in place, which means there would be no time to implement agreed changes - leaving hundreds of thousands of laws becoming irrelevant overnight. High tariffs would be implemented for imported goods such as materials, which is worrying considering that 3/4 of materials used for clothes in the UK are imported. The UK currently benefits from favourable trade regulations with over 60 countries and in order to maintain its relationships, it will have to negotiate new agreements with both European and non-EU countries.

Hard brexit or ‘no deal’ could cause UK based fashion houses such as Burberry to leave and relocate elsewhere. As clients leave, the modelling industry will dwindle down with less work available for models.

As one of the major fashion capitals, London also attracts many foreign designers from around the world. Over 10,000 people who work in the fashion industry are from Europe, not to mention the huge amount of international models working the UK. It is easy for european models to flit between countries, working and living as though it was one country, and this is likely to all change very soon.

One of the main driving forces behind the Brexit vote was concerns about immigration into the UK. This is ironic when net migration from the EU is at the lowest level in a decade, whereas net migration from outside the EU is at its highest since 2004. Models entering the UK to work from outside the EU must be sponsored by an agency for a Tier 5 Temporary Worker visa (currently £189-244), which is likely to apply to models from European countries once Brexit has fully taken place. Hundreds of thousands of people in the UK have been applying for resident status in order to secure some stability amongst the madness, resulting in a huge backlog of applications and administrative strains.

This is going to have a huge effect on model agencies, most of whom rely on the easy free movement of the EU to represent a wide range of models and be able to fly them in as easily as though they were booking a train ride for them from a UK location. They are able to send their own models out to work within the EU also, with markets such as Paris, Milan and Barcelona offering huge markets for UK models who’s careers may be improved by working in different markets for a period of time. Agencies will suffer under the strain to ensure they are operating legally and filing paperwork for their European models, which may lead to a decline in the number of models represented by agencies or even some finding themselves bankrupt as they struggle to survive without the EU market supporting them.

If free movement within the EU / UK ends, wages will be hugely affected in addition to employment levels. Regarding the modelling industry in particular, rates are likely to drop even lower as the administrative hurdle of booking a model increases in contrast to the decline of working opportunities as clients will look to outsource their production to other countries where this is not an issue. Flights in and out of the UK will also become more expensive, which is concerning for models who can currently travel between countries for prices as low as £50. The UK fashion industry in general relies heavily on freelancers who can work with short notice, however this will become nearly impossible due to the paperwork involved for the visas.

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However, this is all prospective and likely to occur quite far in the future - currently the value of the pound has crashed, meaning that there has been a short term boom in sales as foreigners visit the UK to purchase luxury fashion items during this time balancing out the fall in value of many top fashion brands. If the pound continues to drop, retailers are expected to raise prices, which will have a significant effect on UK consumers, who have enjoyed low inflation and little to no price increases for the past six years.

Furthermore, as designers begin to look inwards for sources of production as opposed to importing, this may cause a long term benefit for the UK fashion market, increasing the quality of products and potentially causing ‘fast fashion’ brands to slow down, benefitting our environment overall. In the short term however, this may cause prices to increase, which could potentially lead customers to opt for fashion brands based overseas or result in fast fashion companies moving country all together.

Right now, the UK is in a state of turmoil - however it also happens to be a hugely important, historic event. There is a vote being held on Tuesday 12 March to determine whether we will be accepting Theresa May’s ‘softer’ deal, or delaying Brexit all together in the hope of another referendum, hard brexit or whether we will continue hurtling towards a No Deal. Whichever outcome arrives, the UK fashion market is on the tenterhooks of immense change. As we Brits are famed to ‘keep calm and carry on’, hopefully we will accept this change as a challenge and use it as an opportunity to reconsider everything from greenhouse gas emissions to the level of imports and exports. In terms of the fashion industry, we have an opportunity to redefine what British fashion means and strengthen our cultural identity through the expression of our designers, in-sourcing supply within the UK.

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Hopefully, the treatment of models in the UK will also be considered also as the oversaturated market will experience a shake up in the form of bureaucracy and procedures - not something often seen in the industry where contracts are famously shaken off as ‘meaning nothing’!