Fashion coming apart at the seams
Just as the British Fashion Council makes a case for Government support, the cuts have come. Josephine Collins takes us through the ins and outs of the funding issues that will have an impact on the UK fashion industry.
The British Fashion Council is up against it. Just a few weeks after one of the most successful London Fashion Weeks for spring/summer 2011, the Government said that it was going to cut the London Development Agency - a body that has come up with millions of pounds of support for British fashion in the past years.
This is not to say that the BFC did not already have future funding issues. Some aspects of the LDA money were time limited. For example, a specific £4.2 million grant was used to support emerging London-based fashion talent through a number of schemes, as well as promote London Fashion Week.
BFC also currently gets backing from UK Trade & Investment. It has supported London Fashion Week since 2002 with funding to help bring international retailers and press to LFW each season, and for the BFC designer showroom during Paris Fashion Week.
Perhaps its most important source of money, however, is from the industry itself - notably high street fashion retailers, department stores and the fashion media.
From Tesco to Harrods and Debenhams and from Arcadia to Selfridges, major UK fashion retailers put money into the project because they understand the links and drivers between the UK's established and emerging designer talent, and the success of fashion retail.
The bad news about the LDA - which was hastily closed down at the end of October - came on the heels of a BFC report making the case for more government support.
According to the Value of the UK Fashion Industry, the direct value of the UK fashion industry to the UK economy is nearly £21 billion. On top of that figure fashion's wider contribution to the economy - known as the indirect, induced and "spillover" effects ranging from IT to tourism - is calculated as more than £16 billion.
Further the report highlights the pivotal role of British design - and its showcase event LFW - in driving innovation and growth within the industry itself, including research and development. It also maintains that the UK's cutting edge design reputation attracts millions of visitors to the UK every year.
The report has some nice facts and figures. It says that fashion is important to the UK economy because it directly employs 816,000 people; is the 15th largest industry (out of 81) in UK - similar in size to the food/beverage services and telecommunications. It is bigger than automotive wholesale and retail, sports activities, chemical manufacture and the advertising/video sectors.
Further, the fashion industry is evolving and innovating; for example, the growth in online fashion retail, sustainable clothing ranges, textile R&D and manufacturing, including high tech performance fabrics.
Also on the plus side, the UK has some of the best fashion colleges, designers and retailers in the world.
But the report was not all positive. The BFC understands the "challenges" for British fashion that sit alongside the creative and economic benefits.
It acknowledges a lack of business skills among many smaller fashion businesses, and a limited awareness of the opportunities in the fashion industry among young people and career advisors.
It sees the negative impact of the long term, limited investment in both fashion manufacturing and the designer sectors, and sees a need to incentivise and encourage growth of the UK manufacturing base.
And London Fashion Week's position as the most "creative" of the fashion catwalk cities is subject to growing international competition, the report says.
BFC chairman, Harold Tillman - a veteran of the fashion industry and chairman of Aquascutum and Jaeger - said: "This is just the first step to creating a detailed national action plan for the fashion industry that will help to support its future growth and success."
At the time, Minister for the Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey, said: "This new research shows that fashion makes a significant contribution to the UK economy and confirms British fashion's status as one of our most important creative industries. I look forward to continuing to work with the British Fashion Council to make sure that the Government does what it can to further support the industry."
That looks a bit empty now, but Tillman has said that he will continue to work with government in the best interests of the fashion industry.
The UK has never been particularly forthcoming in its support for the British fashion industry - rightly so, some people think - but in this era of cuts it will be harder than ever to justify support.
Let's hope that Tillman can convince Government - whether central or London - to continue to support the fashion industry. It certainly does deserve it.