'79-'97: 18 years on and off the rack

When red is this year's blue, spin doctors can only cut and run. Interviews by Melanie Rickey
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Edina Ronay, fashion designer

I had just started my business in 1979, designing and selling handmade knitwear. When the Conservatives came to power we did well from the slow increase in spending power as the Eighties took hold. There was a real "gimme gimme" attitude then and we all got swept up in it, but the Nineties have seen a return to the spiritual values we all nurtured during the late Sixties and the Seventies.

If you ask me, did we benefit from the Conservative government, I would say yes and no. We gained in the boom time and lost out during the recession, but the recession was a worldwide thing, really. Europe is still suffering from it. I'm just glad the UK is out of it now.

This election is the first time I have voted, and I have supported the Liberal Democrats. I am not a very political animal but I am concerned about social issues: poverty, the NHS and education. Nobody should be waiting for treatment in hospital. Money and business will never change - there will always be people with money. It's the people who don't have it who lose out. I've been lucky.

I have been through so much in the last 18 years - I suppose I have learnt everything there is to know about the fashion business. Now, for example, I know that England is good at doing the high street. You can buy great things for pounds 30. It is also great at tailoring and the traditional crafts. But most of the individuality has gone out of mainstream British fashion. It is the young designers who are keeping the special things alive.

I would never work for a huge company in this country, where you become anonymous. I would much rather stick to a small collection that I can sell through exclusive outlets. People like to buy special things. However, I am not against working with a big manufacturer abroad and am, in fact, in the process of doing a deal with a big Japanese company to design my own label.

Despite being Hungarian, I have lived here since I was five and feel very British. The only way forward for Britain in terms of Europe is to get more involved with the EU.

Antoni & Alison, fashion designers

We've never worked under anything other than a Conservative government. In '79, when they took over, I was a bad punk (too smiley) and Alison was in Eastbourne thinking there was more to life than this. We started our business in '87 at the beginning of the recession and certainly under a Conservative government it wasn't easy. Five years after that we reinvented our work and five years on from that, we are about to change everything again. We exchanged contracts for our first shop yesterday. For us it really is the start of a new era.

In 1979, people were incredibly political. Now it's all been blanded out. Students were political and as a 17-year-old punk you just hated everything. It was all a bit more rough and photocopied, not so slick as now. Maybe the bad thing that has set in now is complacency. You can't really tell the difference between the parties. I used to like what Neil Kinnock had to say - it was all a bit gritty.

We've had fantastic opportunities in business over the past 10 years. You can't really say if this would have been any different if there had been a different government. We've always just got on with what we were doing regardless.

Owen Gaster, 27, fashion designer

I was 10 years old in 1979, and attended a school called St Johns in Crowborough, East Sussex. The only thing I can remember about the election then was us boys fighting over who would vote for who, in the same way we fought over who was a mod and who was a rocker. My parents are not political, but my grandparents were avid Labour supporters.

Today, I work as a fashion designer and have done so for the last three years, and I feel good about that, I've done a lot. The Government tried to help with initiatives from the DTI, and to be honest the trips abroad are beneficial, but I am yet to see the knock-on effects. Another problem has been the fluctuating pound. During London Fashion Week and the Paris shows most of my Japanese clients were scared off by indecisive happenings over the pound. I hope the Government makes a decision about the EU soon - business would be so much easier.

The only way to become a fashion designer in this country is by doing it all for yourself - this is something the Tories have instilled in me. I have always wanted to work for myself: I never wanted to end up like my school friends, getting married, having kids and working in a dead- end supermarket job

I have only ever known the Tories in my adult life. I voted, but who I decided to support is my business.