British fashion’s got the talent, but have we got the funding?

At London Fashion Week, Samantha Cameron said: “We’ve got the talent and the expertise to take UK fashion even further.” She's right - but do we have the funding?

Yesterday saw the close of another London Fashion Week, a week which, as boasted by Boris Johnson, contributes £100 million to the city’s economy – yet that hasn’t stopped the Mayor cutting the budget of the London Development Agency, one of London Fashion Week’s key sponsors.

In recent years, London has led the way in global fashion. We have nurtured the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith and Alexander McQueen, and the fact that fashion is now one of our most important export industries, generating £21 billion towards the UK economy (now more than telecommunications and advertising) should make us proud.

But to sustain this level of expansion, emerging British designers need financial assistance.

By the end of March, the London Development Agency (LDA) is set to lose 86 per cent of its budget and 200 of its 320 staff, putting grants, investment projects and outreach programmes at risk. Upcoming designers that would have ordinarily sought funding and guidance from the LDA are now looking to private investors or international fashion weeks to show at.

Over the last 3 years, the LDA has given a grant of more than £4.5 million to the British Fashion Council, the non-profit body that oversees London Fashion Week. But Boris Johnson is yet to confirm whether this will still be available in 2012.

It is unlikely it will, at least not in the scope of £1 million per year, as one of the LDA’s most notable sponsorships, Fashion Forward, which sponsors talented young designers for two seasons and offers them valuable guidance, now lies in the hands of millionaire’s bank Coutts & Co; but where cuts are made, Coutts cannot always fill the funding gap.

Putting on a fashion show can cost up to £50,000, and while only the wealthiest fashion graduates can afford it, even they require a swarm of unpaid interns to assist them. Since Fashion Forward began, the LDA has supported 13 upcoming designers, including Giles Deacon, Christopher Kane and Erdem. Eleven of the 13 LDA funded designers studied at London’s Central Saint Martins College, a design school set to be one of the capital’s worst hit by government cuts to University funding.

Intake numbers for creative degrees are expected to fall, while tuition fees are likely to rise. The odds are stacked against Britain’s next generation of designers.

At face value, London Fashion Week is visibly backed by Boris and the government. Big names in the Tory Party attended this week, with home secretary Theresa May front row at Amanda Wakeley (the designer who created that jacket), and Samantha Cameron, wife of David, at Erdem. At the official London Fashion Week opening on Friday, the PM’s wife, who was last year appointed Ambassador to the British Fashion Council, said:

“We’ve got the talent and the expertise to take UK fashion even further.”

Yes, Mrs Cameron – but have we got the funding?

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