On June 23, UK voters will decide on a possible Brexit, or British exit. British citizens will choose to leave or remain a part of the European Union. Among those that stand to be directly affected by the outcome of the vote are designers and manufacturers trading in Europe.
“I’m not alone in wondering how the fallout’s going to be for designers and people like me,” says Christopher Farr, a rug and carpet designer with showrooms in both London and West Hollywood.
Leaving the European Union could have a huge impact on how his and other design companies purchase textiles. Farr’s business, for example, sources materials from Italy and Spain, among other countries. With the UK out of the EU, the cost of this transaction could go up, which could heighten the price tag on the final product for American consumers.
“The trade agreement between the European Union and the United States is very solid and firm, and everybody knows what they’re doing. Now, we’re not going to know,” Farr says.
A pro-Brexit vote could also inhibit the intermingling of the design industry across European borders, Farr says.
“For me, that’s the emotional side of this issue,” says Farr. “The Royal College of Art, which is one of the major design institutions in the world, has 65 nationalities in their student body. Many of them come from Europe. London is seen by many younger Europeans as New York is to the United States. It’s the place they go to find who they are, to work in our great art schools, and all the rest of it.
“Now, that free exchange will no longer be happening if we leave the European market. And I think that’s going to have a huge impact on British design.”
While tuition prices could rise for international students, British students could face problems of their own. If UK fashion school graduates want to leave their home country and work at design companies in Spain or France, for example, they would need to apply for visas, which could take four or five months to process and can get expensive, according to Farr.
“They’re going to put obstacles in the way,” he says. “We don’t know, politically and emotionally, what our former partners are going to do, whether they’re going to penalize us in any way [for exiting]. There’s lots of scare talk about that… But I think it’s the intellectual exchange – that balance is going to change now.”
Ahead of the June 23 vote, dozens of designers – including Christopher Bailey of Burberry, Daniel W. Fletcher, Jonathan Anderson, Ashley Williams, and Claire Barrow – have come out in favor of staying in the EU.
For her part, Vivienne Westwood posted a picture on Instagram donning a politically charged T-shirt, taking a stand against a Brexit.
In a British Fashion Council poll of 290 member designers, 90 percent were in favor of remaining, with a mere 4.3 percent in favor of leaving.
In the minority, prominent British designer and inventor James Dyson has said the United Kingdom should break from the European Union.
“We will create more wealth and more jobs by being outside the EU than we will within it, and we will be in control of our destiny. And control, I think, is the most important thing in life and business,” Dyson told the Daily Telegraph.
As for Christopher Farr, his friends in the design community are leaning towards a vote to remain.
“I would say all 90 percent of the people I know in my position in London, all the designers who go to Milan every year, will be voting to stay in,” says Farr. “I think any business that’s working with Europeans will absolutely not want any change whatsoever.”