Fashion and the UK go hand-in-hand. Famed for its historic creativity, the UK is home to styles as diverse as the Mackintosh, punk, the bowler hat, and the kilt. But what does fashion mean to the United Kingdom today? We sat down with Caroline Rush, Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council, to chat about the British fashion industry’s effect on the country’s culture, industry and economy.
Why is fashion important to the UK?
The fashion industry not only contributes £28 billion in GDP to the British economy, but it also employs 880,000 people, supports our country’s reputation for creative excellence, and is one of the most diverse industries in the country.
From looking at the recent BFC ‘Value of Fashion’ report, it seems that a big part of that impact and contribution comes from UK manufacturing. How do we support high-skilled manufacturing in the UK, and how do these products then become more affordable or attractive to consumers?
The BFC is built on supporting and nurturing British designer fashion businesses, and strengthening the UK manufacturing industry is of huge benefit to our eco-system. This year we launched our High-End and Designer Manufacturers Database, which is a national database of UK manufacturers that aims to make it easier for a designer to source local suppliers and gain ethical supply chain certificates. Focusing on local production and supply chains is one way to work towards more sustainable business models, and bringing more business to UK manufacturers will no doubt lead to more competitive pricing.
As fashion is such an important part of the future of the UK economy, as an industry, how are you trying to make sure that wealth gets spread around?
Strengthening the fashion industry outside of London starts with education, and our nationwide Saturday Clubs and 34 Colleges Council members help us ensure that talented, passionate, skilled young people are strengthening the industry across the UK. Manufacturing is another key focus outside of London, and the artisan skills of certain regions or hubs are vital to the industry. Our High-End and Designer Manufacturer’s database is just one of the ways we are helping to shine a light on the incredible production opportunities there are along the length and breadth of the country.
What about the next generation? How do you make sure the industry supports people from across the UK and from different backgrounds?
Through the BFC’s Education Foundation we work to award scholarships for both BA and MA study, in order to help ensure that background and circumstance are not barriers to talented young students entering further education in fashion. In 2016, the BFC Education Foundation raised £300,000 through The Fashion Awards to support talented young people and awarded £104,300 across 12 BA and MA scholarships. We also partner with a number of established UK and international brands to offer grants and placements to students at our Colleges Council member institutions and, through our Fashion Trust, fund the salaries for year-long graduate traineeships at a number of established British Brands.
We are also working to support younger people looking to gain fashion industry knowledge and insight by running national Fashion & Business Saturday Clubs, aimed at giving young people the opportunity to study fashion at their local college or university for free. As well as working with a group of fashion employers and the University of Arts London to develop a fashion studio apprenticeship. Supporting young talent benefits and safeguards the entire industry, and it is at the heart of what we do.
How is the UK tackling the issue of increasing the sustainability of production and reducing the fashion industry’s carbon footprint?
The BFC’s Positive Fashion initiative was set up to look at the issue of sustainability as well as examining other industry modes of best practice. We champion a range of approaches and solutions that we hope will lead fashion towards a more sustainable future. Part of this has involved working with established businesses that are already leading the way in sustainability. This forum allows brands to share best practices and lessons learned that we can pass on to the designers that we work with – from the emerging to the established. There are many great businesses focused on sustainability based here in the UK and the Ethical Fashion Forum and the London College of Fashion’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion is developing great insight for the sector.
What do you see for the future of the British fashion industry? What kind of future would you like to see?
I would like to see our industry continue to go from strength to strength, for talented young people to take up challenging and rewarding careers, and for the UK to continue to be the best place to start and develop a designer fashion business, with clear pathways for support and development. I want to see the UK remain the birthplace of global fashion talent, as well as nurturing the best talent from around the world who come to study at our colleges and stay here in the UK to build the most exciting and dynamic businesses. I want to see our brands and businesses thrive and for the fashion industry to be open, inclusive, and an industry we can all be proud of.
Explore more on the impact of fashion:
- Claudio Marenzi on the impact of fashion on the Italian economy
- Pascal Morand on the impact of fashion on the French economy
- Livia Firth on the true cost of fast fashion
- Back to We Wear Culture
Caroline Rush CBE is the Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council (BFC). She is listed in the Evening Standard Power 1000 List 2012 and 2013 as well as the 2013 Business of Fashion’s 500. In 2014 she was made an Honorary Professor at Glasgow Caledonian University and awarded a CBE for her services to the British fashion industry.