Fashion brands from the UK’s £32bn luxury goods sector have strutted into the Brexit debate and joined the chorus of voices concerned about how their trade could be impacted if Britain leaves the European Union.
Labels such as the jewellers Boodles and the leather specialist Belstaff spoke to The Independent; they are among the brands that said they are more aligned to Britain remaining in the UK.
They were joined by Amanda Wakeley, who makes £2,695-dresses, and Lucy Choi, the entrepreneurial niece of shoe tycoon Jimmy Choo, who is aggressively expanding in London and whose designs have been spotted on singer Cheryl Fernandez-Versini.
Until now industries such as banking, aviation and pharmaceuticals have largely dominated business opinions on the 23 June referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EU.
In a pro-European letter signed by 200 business leaders in The Times on Tuesday, only a handful were from the luxury sector, including Burberry and Kurt Geiger.
The value of sales for this group is forecast to hit £51.1bn by 2019, with the industry set to employ 158,000, according to Frontier Economics and trade body Walpole. Some firms are worried that growth could be restricted should Britain vote to leave.
Gavin Haig, the boss of Belstaff which is mulling over an IPO in the future, said: “Nothing is proscribed with an exit from Europe, but we would expect it to add complexity and barriers to our business – not good for trade, employees or customers.” Meanwhile Michael Wainwright, the managing director of Boodles, is worried about losing potential customers: “I would be concerned if banks migrated away from England in the event of a vote leave, because City workers can be big customers. I am in the pro EU camp.”
Ms Wakeley said for her business, which employs more than 50 people in the UK, “there is no clear evidence to support Brexit”.
Ms Choi, who opened her first store in the West End last year and is planning five more by the end of 2016, is also supportive of the EU, “where consistent law and principles provide a sound platform for a new business such as ours.”
But Vartkess Knadjian, the boss of diamond company Backes & Strauss, said: “A potential Brexit is unlikely to harm the luxury industry.” He believes wider economic and market uncertainty is more likely to impact the sector. A number of design giants have recently suffered from currency swings and weaker sales in Hong Kong.
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