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British Fashion Council Aims to Raise £50 Million For Struggling Designers

As the BFC announces its first 37 Foundation Fashion Fund recipients, the organisation wants British government and larger industry players to step up to support their smaller counterparts amid the Covid-19 crisis.
David Koma's Autumn/Winter 2020 show during London Fashion Week | Source: Getty Images
  • Tamison O'Connor

LONDON, United Kingdom — As the coronavirus began sweeping across Europe earlier this year, it became apparent that, in 2020, many fashion businesses wouldn't be focusing on accelerating revenue growth or expanding categories: the primary concern for many would be whether they would even survive the Covid-19 crisis.

That's why, when the British Fashion Council (BFC) was on the brink of choosing the winner of the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund in March 2020, it decided instead to split the prize money between all the finalists and pool £1 million in cash from its other support grants — including the GQ Designer Menswear Fund, Newgen and the Fashion Trust — to create an emergency relief initiative christened the BFC Foundation Fashion Fund.

The BFC's new fund is just one of many initiatives across the globe created to help save the fashion industry from devastation. In the UK, larger retail chains Laura Ashley, Cath Kidston and Oasis & Warehouse Group have already fallen into administration. Oasis and Warehouse, which have remained firm fixtures of the British high street for decades, are set to shut their doors permanently, costing 1,800 jobs. Smaller creative businesses, which often rely on wholesale models and are grappling with an influx of cancelled orders and piles of unsold inventory, are equally vulnerable. According to a BFC survey, 35 percent of designers believed they could go out of business within the next three months without any external support, while 50 percent didn't see their business surviving past the end of the year.

With over 220 applications flooding in for the BFC Foundation Fashion Fund, it quickly became apparent that £1 million wouldn't stretch very far, said BFC Chief Executive Caroline Rush. In fact, the BFC estimates that £100 million is what will be needed to protect the British fashion talent over the next year and a half. That's in spite of government relief measures, such as small business loans which, in reality, can be hard to access.

“£1 million sounds like a lot of money, but when you split it among so many businesses, it is just a drop in the ocean,” said Rush. “Much more needs to be done.”

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.

The BFC is aiming to raise £50 million for the fund this year with support from established businesses and individuals. The organisation is also calling on the British government to match every pound the BFC is able to raise. Each time the fund reaches a new £500,000 mark, money will be distributed to new recipients.

Each brand will receive up to £50,000 to help weather the Covid-19 crisis. Recipients will also have access to business support and mentoring from the BFC’s network, which includes a vast range of companies from Farfetch and LVMH to Instagram, Google and HSBC.

The first £1 million round of funding will be distributed among 37 designers. Joining the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund finalists Alighieri, Halpern, Charles Jeffrey LOVERBOY, Metier, David Koma and Rejina Pyo are 16Arlington, Ahluwalia, Aries, Art School, Bethany Williams, Bianca Sauders, Chalayan, Chopova Lowena, Craig Green, E. Tautz, E.L.V. Denim, Edeline Lee, Eftychia, King & Tuckfield, Kwaidan Editions, Liam Hodges, Matty Bovan, Nabil Nayal, Neous, Nicholas Daley, palmer//harding, Paper London, paria /Farzaneh, Per Gotesson, Phoebe English, Raeburn, Richard Malone, Richard Quinn, Roksanda, Stefan Cooke and Toogood.

Rush and the BFC would like that list to be far longer. But fundraising during the pandemic hasn’t been easy for many trade organisations.

To date, philanthropy efforts from fashion's major companies like LVMH, Kering and Hermès have largely focused on medical relief with donations of cash, medical equipment and protective gear to hospitals and front line workers.

“You can imagine how difficult it is just trying to fundraise at this time, because everybody is thinking about life first,” said Rush. “In the context of humanitarian need, it’s a challenge.”

The CFDA faces a similar handicap fundraising for its Common Threads initiative, which was established in partnership with American Vogue. As of May 5, the fund has raised $4.2 million, according to the CFDA website — just a sliver of funding in the context of the size of the American economy.

Nevertheless, Rush and the BFC's fundraising committee has already got the ball rolling. Alexander McQueen, Browns, Coach and Clearpay are among the companies that have already donated to the fund's second round, and Rush said the BFC is almost halfway to reaching the next £500,000 milestone. (Rush declined to disclose how much each company had contributed individually.)

As an industry, we now need to come together to make sure we're protecting the next generation of talent coming through.

The BFC is also compiling a report on the economic impact of the British fashion industry with analytics firm Oxford Economics that will serve as evidence in lobbying for more widespread government support. Over the past few weeks, the BFC has been in talks with the government around the specific problems fashion businesses are facing right now, such as cash flow challenges caused by retailers cancelling orders and the pile-up of unsold inventory. In addition to funding, the body has also been petitioning for more easily accessible loans for fashion businesses.

Rush applauded the efforts of the fashion industry around supporting the humanitarian needs of the coronavirus crisis. But she also stressed the need for fashion to protect its own ecosystem, especially over the next 12 to 18 months.

While the coronavirus crisis has exposed major vulnerabilities in the current fashion business model that an emergency fund won’t fix, as Rush pointed out, without any relief efforts, the future of the British creative industry is in jeopardy. The reality is that some fashion businesses will not survive this challenging period.

“As an industry, we now need to come together to make sure we’re protecting the next generation of talent coming through,” she said.

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