BY Najeeba Hayat

Footwear designer Najeeba Hayat of Liudmila weighs in on the impact an arguably shortsighted decision of country to exist the European Union will have on SMEs such as hers. Many voted for it, not understanding the damaging implications, or what Brexit even means.

If you’re even remotely in touch with what’s been going on in the news regarding the European Union, and the fact that Britain just suddenly yanked itself out of it by majority vote, then you’ll know that there’s been widespread disapproval over social media with tens of thousands of folks around the world taking to their respective accounts to pretty much say, “WTF”, and “Shame on you Britain!”

Needless to say, we all have an opinion on the matter, and many of us have shared it, but how many have actually sat down to ponder what this all means? What are the implications of Brexit? How will this impact business, employment, immigration, and just the general social landscape of a country who for the past 50 years believed that membership in such a union was truly going to achieve remarkable economic, political, and social stability/ growth.

I’m keen to know and understand what impact Brexit will have on emerging young fashion designers, who for many years saw the benefit of setting up shop within the European Union. For that, we’re turning to Liudmila founder, Najeeba Hayat who’s definitely the least bit pleased on this “short sighted decision.”

It seems surreal that just last Monday I was speaking to my tax advisor, urgently discussing the steps towards opening a London office for my two year old footwear label, Liudmila before I start taking orders in Paris. I woke up to the Brexit BBC alert yesterday morning with that possibility dashed, leaving me in a sick, confused panic about the future of my brand. 

I am a young Kuwaiti shoe designer who manufactures in Italy and is already on her fourth season of sales. Why would the seemingly YOLO decision-making of over half of British voters affect me? 

Fashion does not spring from a vacuum. The ideas behind those red Victorian snakeskin booties might emerge from my overheated imagination but every single step required after that initial idea relies on a delicately constructed and efficient ecosystem built to translate, supply, produce, transport, market, sell and deliver that idea. These ecosystems are concentrated in a handful of cities around the world. 

I’ve been struggling for two years with my company based in Kuwait. I have had to reject dozens of over-qualified and desperately-needed staff for lack of an office in a fashion capital where they can be physically present in the right ecosystem. I made the decision to open a subsidiary in London which would enable me to have a stable base, the right support network, the right staff and is just a hop away from my Italian factory where DHL wouldn’t rob me of me half my profits. Additionally, I would be able to reclaim the extortionate 22% VAT I pay on goods delivered from my factory to an EU destination and price my shoes more competitively.

London, over the past decade has proven the most attractive for the misfits. Young, international, hyper-passionate creatives with overly-ambitious designs like myself feel at home there. London, forever punk, always changing, always teeming with people from all over, will always embrace the strange ones and take a chance on new ideas. It was from London that McQueen took over the world, that Galliano became a superstar. In London, the PR agencies actually answer your emails, high profile buyers will direct message you on Instagram, and then buy your collection, not asking about your “celebrity strategy” and stylists and other creative are always open to collaboration. You have a legitimate possibility to build a strong support network without having blowing a million pounds or having an existing rolodex of fashion contacts. It’s the openness (to new people, to new ideas, to trade) that permeates the very fabric of the city and makes it such a perfect place for a fashion business to thrive. 

Besides this willingness to engage and catalyze, the system of EU subsidies for fashion education and training has set a high bar for level of skill in London.  Talented kids from all over Europe who don’t have the money to pursue a life in fashion independently were helped by these initiatives. You have the energy, the possibility to build a talented design team from the best fashion schools across Europe, the best supply of eager interns  and best of all, production just a short Easyjet trip away in mainland Europe. Shipping was easy, transport of goods was easy, travel was easy, movement of people was easy. 

Goodbye to all that! We are welcoming a new era of restricted movement, visas, import taxes within Europe, tariffs, and non reclaimable VAT. Today we find ourselves in a situation where the easiest, most open, most collaborative, most creative fashion hub on earth is an island alone, surrounded by masses of red tape. EU officials have made it exceedingly clear that they will not be in any hurry to grant the UK any concessions to ease the pains of withdrawal after this most scandalous of temper tantrums.  Even Obama has pointed out that the UK will need to get to the back of the line in renegotiating trade agreements. 

London fashion will suffer. Every kind of skilled fashion worker will be in short supply, every company will pay a greater percentage of their profits on bureaucratic expenses, taxes and tariffs and every order book will thin until this buzzing hive of creativity withers to a shadow of its former self. 

London is more than a city for fashion. It is the place where so many of us were shown that fashion was more than a 1950s Dior gown, more than just glamour and expense. London showed me fashion pushed to the edge, ideas that made me uncomfortable and excited. London was where fashion breathes, lives on the streets, where coffee table books on Japanese street style mingled with seedy XXX film stores and giant rolls of purple spangly organza in grimy Soho shops. London was where CSM instructors slapped the Audrey Hepburn out of your head and forced you to tell your own story through the clothes. Fashion is at its most raw in London, its least commercial (not to say that it’s not commercially viable) and most fun. London is the place where mega-stylists work with small knitwear brands with four stockists simply because they are amazing at what they do, where the young boy who worked at a chippie becomes a global superstar and changes the fashion landscape forever. To lose London would be to lose fashion’s root, its anchor and its soul. This will have repercussions far beyond British fashion for generations to come. The fount of creativity that this city embodies will run dry. London’s mid-noughties fashion youth-quake was a child of decades of EU support for amazing talents and a child of the ease with which a creative could follow through on their desire to create. That ease is gone, the walls are up and Britain has slammed the door in its neighbours’ faces. I might be too emotionally invested in that great, magic sprawl but God knows I’m not the only one.


Article Image Credit: Unknown

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