The British fashion industry has called for more financial aid from the government amid fears the coronavirus crisis could wipe out half of the sector.
On the day the British Fashion Council (BFC) announced the recipients of its £1m emergency fund, the organisation said the amount was meagre in light of the sum needed to help small, independent fashion companies.
“One million pounds sounds like a lot of money, but when you split it among so many businesses, it is just a drop in the ocean,” Caroline Rush, the BFC chief executive, told the trade website Business of Fashion. “Much more needs to be done.”
Alongside the threat of closure, fashion designers have experienced massive financial losses from production changes, cancelled orders and rescheduled catwalk shows. Retailers have suffered an 80% decline in footfall, the sectors “greatest ever” drop, in the four weeks between 5 April and 2 May.
Thirty-seven labels, including Craig Green, Bethany Williams and Ahluwalia, are due to receive the financial help from the BFC Foundation fashion fund of up to £50,000 each. “It will allow our team to have stability during this time,” said Eden Loweth of Art School, one of the recipients of the fund. He added that the money will be used to “invest in our direct team of assistants and manufacturers, supporting them and therefore the company infrastructure over the course of the coming months”.
The pandemic has forced the fashion industry to question how it operates. An open letter by the designer Dries Van Noten and signed by other designers, executives, retailers and industry figures has called for the production of fewer goods, less travel for fashion weeks and a realignment of seasonal deliveries and sales periods.
“I think this is a watershed moment for the whole industry,” said Loweth. “Things simply wont ever go back to how they were before.”
“[The pandemic] has made designers look at what is really necessary,” said Bianca Saunders, who is also receiving money from the BFC fund. “Weve had to essentially rip up the rule book and come up with whole new ways of doing things, from production of collections, through to the shows and marketing side of things.”
For Saunders this has meant developing e-commerce and becoming independent. “As much as I am thankful for the incredible support from my stockists, its great to also be able to offer this from my own channel,” she said.
With digital fashion shows taking place instead of physical ones, the nature of catwalk events is set to change for ever too. “Well see some exciting innovative ideas from designers come June and beyond as a result of this,” said Saunders. “Thats one positive I would take from it. Out of adversity, comes creativity.”