Support for the creative economy

Written Evidence submitted by the British Fashion Council [SCE 084]

This submission is made on behalf of the British Fashion Council (BFC) by Caroline Rush (Chief Executive) and Simon Ward (Chief Operating Officer).

The BFC welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s call for submissions relating to the support for the creative industries.

Executive Summary

· The UK fashion industry is advancing its economic position but requires continued government support in a number of key areas to fulfil the Chancellor’s ambition for the creative sector to become a "world leader".

· The fashion industry is rightly perceived as dynamic, young and vibrant and hopeful. These highly valuable characteristics must be grasped by government to spur an important sector of the economy, as well as boost the brand of the UK fashion industry globally.

· Government needs to work with industry to find practical and vocational solutions to its approaching skills shortage to sustain its economic growth for the creative economy.

· Government must consider a transitional period for the industry to move away from unpaid internships and implement the long-term skills solutions required, tackling the immediate technical skills shortfall experienced by some businesses and the vacuum of opportunity that will be created for a large pool of graduates leaving college shortly, unable to find suitable employment.

· Government must continue to financially support the current activities of the BFC and within the industry by other industry partners to maintain the UK’s competitive and creative advantage.

· Government must maximise on the renewed interest for manufacturing high-quality specialist products in the UK and ensure that the appropriate conditions are in place in order to do so.

· Long-term strategic planning is vital to the advancement and continued promotion of designer fashion within the UK creative economy and on a global stage.

1 The work of the BFC and The Value of UK Fashion


1.1 The BFC is committed to developing excellence and growth in the fashion industry, a significant contributor to the British economy. In 2009, the UK fashion industry contributed £20.9 billion (1.7% of total UK GDP) and supported approximately 816,000 jobs-more than the telecommunications, car manufacturing and publishing combined (BFC and Oxford Economics, 2010 [1] ). 94% of UK designer businesses operate on a microbusiness level (TBR, 2008 [2] ) and the overall economic activity of the fashion industry contributed over £13 billion directly to the Treasury (BFC and Oxford Economics, 2010 [3] ).

1.2 The role of the BFC is to nurture, support and promote British fashion talent at a designer level to a global market. The BFC does this through globally recognised events including London Fashion Week and the British Fashion Awards; designer support pathways including NEWGEN and the BFC/ Vogue Designer Fashion Fund; and an integrated global communications strategy which embraces creativity and innovation to secure London and Britain’s position as a global leader in fashion (figure 1).

Figure 1.

1.3 In the Budget Statement of March 2011 [1] , the Chancellor outlined the government’s ambition for the creative industries sector in the UK to become a "world leader". Therefore this written submission will focus primarily on two areas within the inquiry’s Terms of Reference and the BFC’s remit: barriers to growth and ways to establish a strong skills base to support the creative economy.

1.4 The BFC is committed in its role to ensuring that barriers to growth for the industry are identified and that the skills, knowledge and training being taught in our education system matches the current skills demands of thriving businesses. Future proofing the economic prospects of our unique industry and preventing any potential skills shortfall is key to the expansion of the UK’s creative economy. Therefore the BFC believes it is vital to ensure that government and politicians fully understand the current concerns which have been identified by industry in these areas, in order to continue providing practical support that the industry requires and protect the fashion industry’s substantial economic and creative output for UK plc.

2 Establishing a strong skills base in support of the creative economy - Internships, Apprenticeships and Fair Access.


2.1 The BFC continues to liaise with HM Revenue and Customs on unpaid internships in the industry, as recently reported in the UK press and through Written Parliamentary Questions in the House of Commons [1] .

2.2 Traditionally, those wishing to start a career in fashion have undertaken higher education courses. Students from Britain’s world renowned fashion colleges have been able to gain valuable technical skills and hands-on experience through internships and have obtained a better understanding of their strengths and the skills they will require to work within the industry. These placements often have stimulated a positive attitude to work, helped develop an understanding of the processes and roles within the fashion industry, given introductions to a wide range of players within the industry and have been considered vital for learning a broad range of skills to increase employability significantly.

2.3 There has also been a change in the annual retailer buying cycle of womenswear. Designers are facing pressure to showcase more than the traditional two collections a year to buyers, typically through catwalk shows at Fashion Weeks. This has placed increased pressure on new and emerging businesses that must create completely new collections each time. Twice a year is challenging enough; four collections gives not just additional creative pressure, but also places a strain on all parts of a designer’s business, from production to sales and emerging designers are facing the need to find low-risk financial strategy to showcase their pre-collections internationally, in order to achieve significant financial gain.

2.4 HM Revenue and Customs has now fed back their findings to the BFC from the ‘health check’ visits they made to a number of designers. While their feedback was constructive, HM Revenue and Customs have made it clear that legal alternatives to unpaid internships must be implemented with immediate effect.

2.5 In light of this, the BFC continues to assist designer businesses to take positive steps to ensure that they are operating within the law and continues to actively support the need for a change in culture across the whole creative industries for paid, skilled work opportunities by beginning to create tools and resources with Creative Skillset.

2.6 The BFC recognises that it is important at this time that skills and employment opportunities are not lost and government urgently recognises the detrimental economic impact the industry could potentially encounter through HM Revenue and Customs’ immediate enforcement; an immediate technical skills shortfall experienced by some businesses and a vacuum of opportunity for the large pool of graduates leaving college each year needing experience.

2.7 The BFC believes that the government must therefore agree to a cross-departmental transitional period in partnership with key industry stakeholders, to develop and implement the required long-term, industry specific solutions on clear vocational and higher educational pathways. Designers, many of which are micro-businesses, operate with minimum resources (i.e. issues with access to finance, studio space, HR and business support) and the industry must work in partnership with government to address the potentially significant skills and job shortages which will substantially impact on the economic output of the fashion industry.

2.8 The BFC is also actively exploring a number of approaches to provide solutions to these challenges that are faced. It is working alongside Creative Skillset looking into apprenticeships and careers advice at all levels for individuals, employers and educational establishments and how these can be designed to secure the economic output of the creative industries, alongside the UK’s current and outstanding higher education offer.

2.9 This work must result in a ‘parity of esteem’ between the academic and vocational pathways, ensuring fashion apprenticeships are seen as a gold standard for technical skills education and promoting excellence to secure future employment. Apprenticeships need to be perceived as a more valued qualification and careers advice in schools does not currently reflect this, forming a cultural barrier to their substantial uptake once established.

2.10 The BFC is also working in partnership with the Designer-Manufacturing Innovation Support Centre (DISC) at the London College of Fashion, alongside the UK Fashion and Textiles Association for textiles and manufacturing. This is outlined further in section 3.

2.11 It is vital that an effective apprenticeship programme is implemented at the right skills levels, as well as modifying current student placement arrangements to secure opportunity for future generations and maintain the UK’s competitive and creative advantage.

2.12 Designers have expressed that they struggle with the financial and bureaucratic constraints of the current apprenticeships system alongside their demanding production schedule. Current provision does not address the high technical, business and HR skills to tackle the business need.

2.13 The result of this is that some designers, rather than engaging with the apprentice model, are starting to move towards sourcing students (and potential employees) from elsewhere, including international EU programmes such as Erasmus [1] or Da Vinci [2] . These programmes significantly eliminate business costs and provide full payment of the student during the time they are working with the designer. Such schemes are beneficial to designers, but they do have the potential to limit British students’ opportunity to secure the experience and skills required to succeed in the industry.

2.14 If this trend is to be reversed, access to apprenticeships must be adapted to enable British students to have equal access to opportunities in the UK. This may require the extension of apprenticeships to those who have already completed a higher education course.

2.15 Through meetings with designers, the BFC notes that there is an expressed interest for the development of a higher level apprenticeship ‘conversion course’ after graduating from university. These would potentially provide a suitable means to replace unpaid internships for fashion graduates, aimed at adding technical and business skills to the design and marketing skills learned as part of their degree.

2.16 Presently, potential apprenticeship candidates who have already undertaken higher education are not eligible for funding and would be required to take on a further loan, on top of already increased student loans. Moreover, as no approved frameworks are in place for higher apprenticeships within the fashion industry, it would take a considerable period of time before it could become a viable option. This limits the industry’s capacity to mitigate the current concerns it has finding a suitable way to equip graduates with the technical and business skills needed, with the loss of unpaid internships.

2.17 As such, the BFC believes that one size fits all business support schemes of this nature are not proving as successful in the creative industries, against other sectors. Whether dissemination of information, application processes, qualifications or method of delivery, the specifics of individual sectors, such as fashion, within the creative industries need to be addressed in any future apprenticeship scheme to ensure talent creation and development.

2.18 Therefore the BFC has responded to the call for evidence for the Richard Review to express these considerations, as well as a number of other barriers preventing the industry from engaging with them going forward. The BFC looks forward to the publication of the Review’s recommendations at the end of November 2012.

2.19 In conjunction with its work on apprenticeships, the BFC is also liaising through the BFC Colleges Council to explore the creation of a placement framework for students within the timeframe of their courses, which complies with current National Minimum Wage legislation.

2.20 Colleges are doing a great deal of work independently already within degree course structures, but there are differing approaches (for example, length of placement or whether placements are available across all fashion courses at the educational institutions). It may be that a centrally co-ordinated process could significantly improve opportunities for students (i.e. the level of technical and business skills which can be developed during key points such as London Fashion Week) and provide a valuable resource for designers. This would require support from government to protect funding to our higher education institutions and provide pathways for students to be able to afford such placements, for which they are often charged for through their recently increased university fees without remuneration.

2.21 It should also be acknowledged that und er current National Minimum Wage rules, these placements can also be unpaid if they satisfy HM Revenue and Customs’ criteria regarding work experience within higher education. The BFC strives to ensure that those with talent are able to access appropriate opportunities, suitable remuneration for their work and high-level training that enables them to flourish within industry. Therefore the BFC seeks to establish meetings with government to see how this can be overcome for both designer, who is limited in resource, and for students who requires fair payment for the work they undertake, against the backdrop of increased university fees.

2.22 It is of vital importance that we continue to inspire and attract future talented and individuals to come and work within the industry, enabling UK fashion designers to maintain their competitive and creative edge in an increasingly competitive global marketplace and against challenging economic conditions.

3 Barriers to growth-UK Manufacturing and Government Funding


3.1 "The last fifteen years have seen a dramatic fall in UK manufacturing as emerging markets have become more competitive" [1] . There are however still some opportunities for UK manufacturing in luxury and bespoke goods and over half the designers showing at London Fashion Week make some of their collections in the UK [2] .

3.2 Manufacturing in the UK is central to supporting new and emerging designers in the high-level production of their collections and plays a key part in internationally promoting Britain’s existing reputation as a luxury and bespoke manufacturing nation. Therefore the BFC recognises that the UK must optimise the power of ‘Made in Britain’ both at a designer and retail level and maximise the ‘2012 effect’, so that growth can be stimulated for the creative economy. In support of this, the BFC continues its work in conjunction with the Fashion Manufacturing Alliance [1] and helps to develop tools for designers wishing to manufacture in the UK.

3.3 The BFC recognises that international spending patterns (particularly in emerging markets) on UK luxury and bespoke goods has increased substantially and now more than ever government must create a climate which advances existing retail interest in quality and luxury products, in line with this positive consumer response. Moreover, government must actively continue to minimise barriers experienced by UK designers who seek to trade in emerging international markets.

3.4 The BFC believes that this can be achieved in a number of ways. The BFC continues in its efforts establishing British designer fashion within emerging international markets through LONDON show ROOMS [1] and receives vital public funding support to do so.

3.5 However delays to the confirmation of some public funding could have potentially severe knock-on effects to the planning of certain activities. Delays have ranged between 6 weeks to 6 months, dependent upon whether it is considered a ‘core activity’ or a new project (for example, our recent LONDON show ROOMS in Hong Kong).  This funding is critical to the success of such projects and valued highly by the industry, but at present it is difficult to assess the funding opportunities available going forward and create a long-term strategic plan to advance.

3.6 The BFC also recognises the importance of focusing on the next generation of manufacturing talent, addressing the inevitable loss of skills expressed in section 2 of this submission. The BFC works in partnership with the Designer-Manufacturing Innovation Support Centre (DISC) at the London College of Fashion, alongside the UK Fashion and Textiles Association to address the shortage of skilled machinists and technicians in small manufacturing units, particularly in the London area.

3.7 There is an urgent need to address this particular skills gap in as, unless these manufacturers are able to increase capacity with the designers as they grow, there is a strong risk that a large proportion of production will be moved offshore and further diminish UK fashion manufacturing and design.

3.8 Moreover, experienced and skilled individuals need to be attracted, trained and promoted to a career in fashion manufacturing in order to maintain the UK’s current skills base. Anecdotal evidence suggests that manufacturers are losing approximately 10% of their workforce through retirement, sickness and maternity leave and this will mean that a substantial skills gap could be experienced in the next few years.

3.9 The BFC continues in its dialogue with government and is currently working to commission research, mapping the current manufacturing picture here in the UK and reassessing the government’s outdated reporting in this area. With this information and coupled with the ongoing work of the industry, the BFC hopes to identify the latent demand for UK manufacturing facilities and focus on new talent, skills required and cutting-edge methods of production to strengthen the creative economy.

November 2012

[1] British Fashion Council and Oxford Economics (2010) 'The Value of the UK Fashion Industry' , can be accessed at, (accessed 14 November 2012).

[2] TBR (2008) ‘Sizing the Skillfast-UK Sectors and the contribution of Microbusinesses’ can be accessed from at, 14 November 2012).

[3] As per footnote 1.

[1] HM Treasury (2011) ‘2011 Budget statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon George Osborne MP’, can be accessed at, (accessed 14 November 2012).

[1] Hansard (2012) ‘Written Parliamentary Question: Work Experience’, can be accessed at (accessed 14 November 2012).

[1] European Union (2012) ‘International Exchange Erasmus Student Network’ , can be accessed at (accessed on 14 November 2012).

[2] European Union (2012) ‘Leonardo Da Vinci Programme’ , can be accessed at, (accessed on 14 November 2012).

[1] BFC (2011) ‘Future of Fashion: Strategic Considerations for Growth’, can be accessed at, (accessed 15 November 2012).

[2] Ibid.

[1] Fashion Manufacturing Alliance (2012) can be accessed at, (accessed 15 November 2012).

[1] British Fashion Council (2012) ‘LONDON show ROOMS’, can be accessed at (accessed 15 November 2012).

Prepared 28th November 2012