We’re sure you’ve heard a lot about Brexit by now. We’ve heard the phrase “Article 50” more times in the last few days than ever before, and we’ve written before about how it feels to be British during Brexit. However, less has been said about how British designers feel about the decision, and it’s an important angle to explore.
So, how do they feel? In a word: uncertain. According to Matthew Miller, “The simple answer straightaway is that we don’t know what’s going to happen.” CMMN SWDN’s Saif Bakir said that “My first feeling was sadness. Figures showed that were were going to stay in; a lot of people thought we were going to stay in.”
When we asked Aitor Throup, he said that his instinctive reaction, “is of worry and concern, because it feels like an unnecessarily isolated situation to be in for our country.” He went on to to say that “ultimately, we’re yet to see what the actual implications will be. I think there are too many possibilities, it’s too hypothetical to gauge the real effect it will have socially and economically.”
Socially, all the designers we spoke to agreed that the Brexit sends the wrong kind of message to the world. After all, any decision that’s welcomed by Donald Trump is destined to be the wrong one. “I think the real worry is how it reflects a kind of collective mentality,” Aitor Throup says. “I think it promotes social conflict. There really seems to be a separatist, black-and-white clash of opinions. And that’s a worry, because, historically, that tends to be what precedes global conflict.”
Saif Bakir made a similar point, noting that the result empowers extreme parties and those spreading a message of hate. He notes that Sweden’s most prominent far-right party, Sverigedemokraterna (Swedish Democrats), are already calling for a similar referendum.
In terms of business, the only certainty is uncertainty. The UK is still in the single market for now, which allows the UK to deal within the EU at reduced rates. But it’s unlikely that this will continue should England exit the EU. While chief Leave Campaigner Boris Johnson said that the UK will still have single market access; those in the EU disagreed. In a Guardian article published on June 27, an unnamed EU diplomat said to The Guardian that remaining in the single market was a “pipe dream.”
“You cannot have full access to the single market and not accept its rules,” the diplomat said. “If we gave that kind of deal to the UK, then why not to Australia or New Zealand? It would be a free-for-all.” However, the law hasn’t been clarified yet, so this question remains up in the air.
In terms of the economic impact, Matthew Miller noted that, “the pound and the euro have fluctuated, [and] it’s made business more difficult.” Throup said that when it comes to the economy he’s, “optimistic rather than pessimistic, [in a] let’s wait and see manner, but I am worried.”
One interesting development is that euros have suddenly gained value in the UK. CMMN SWDN has always sold and dealt in euros. “All our sales were done in euros because we thought it was the currency that everybody understood. It was easy to relate to. So, in terms of people panicking about the pound going down, it doesn’t really affect us as such.” In fact, as London-dwellers who’d always had to convert their euros to pounds, CMMN SWDN could find themselves earning more money than before.
While money won’t be a worry for designers who deal in euros, designers are sure to face more difficulties in exporting. Miller noted that he exported about 70% of his goods to Europe and further abroad, something he says is “now in a state of flux” given the markets. CMMN SWDN noted that, “we buy a lot of fabrics from Italy and a lot of our stuff is made in Portugal and Poland.” The potential removal of the UK from the single market will make all of these things more difficult.
On a grander scale, the Brexit decision has changed businesses purely because they all have to adopt a short-term outlook now. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Miller. “Every 24 hours, I’ll only know what to do in the next 24 hours. We’ve gone from a strategy of working six months in advance to “wait until tomorrow and see what happens.”