All flair but little acumen?

Fashion is a closed world to most of us in business - an arcane glamfest of catwalk anorexics, tantrums and tiaras, the financial end of which is shrouded in obscurity. So where does the British fashion industry fit into the world picture? In a fairly modest, lost-in-the-background way is the answer. At the high street level we do fine, but in the league of high fashion, haute couture and luxury goods, London comes a poor fourth behind Paris, Milan and New York. This is a continuing disappointment and a big loss to our national prosperity.

by Matthew Gwyther, mt editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The French estimate that their fashion business supports 2,000 firms, 200,000 jobs and 5% of their total industrial production. Our fashion schools churn out a hugely disproportionate number of international star designers, but they get poached by foreign organisations - John Galliano, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney being three high-profile examples.

The problem is similar to that faced by the British film 'industry' and is very well rehearsed: we turn out dozens of gorgeous Jude Laws and Keira Knightleys, talented directors like Ridley Scott, Alan Parker and Sam Mendes, but not enough Disneys, 20th-Century Foxes or SKGs. We lack critical mass, capital investment and distribution power.

But is this a weakness or just the way we do things? The UK is good at a small-is-beautiful flexibility, and at an SME level in fashion we do fairly well. But dozens of enterprises fail every year because it's such a precarious world and they are pretty naive in terms of business basics.

Quality control and brand integrity in a creative business are vital.

Eley Kishimoto, one of Britain's hottest companies (featuring on this month's cover ), makes beautiful clothes, textiles and even furniture, which the market is crying out for at the moment - they are hipper than a titanium hip joint. 'We are surface decorators,' says founder Mark Eley, 'and the whole world's a surface.' Mark and his wife are happily established in a former jam factory in Brixton, south London, and the last thing they want to do is grow into a Tommy Hilfiger.

Not that they don't want to know how to manage their business efficiently.

They could do far worse then read our primer on 'How to be a First-time Manager', which includes tips from leading lights who have been through the agony of giving the first order and watching how it is received.

Finally, back to the classics. Again. The level of scholarship among MT readers continues to astound us, and we had a large entry to last month's women-only translation competition. (The answer was 'Women will win the righteous struggle in the end'.) So, the Latin teaser translation for August is the following ... Multo errore diem cumulabit tiro magister. Answers to Male readers are once again welcome to enter.

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