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How Brexit is affecting the design industry

How Brexit is affecting the design industry

Sarah Watson, founder of tile company Balineum, has been keeping a document titled ‘Brexit is SHIT,’ the opening line of which reads ‘Brexit is SHIT. And it will continue to be shit.’ ‘All in all it’s a shit show.’ This how Charlie Porter – an ex-House & Garden staff member who runs online antiques business Tat London – describes Brexit. Between the two of them, both of whom source pieces for their businesses from the EU and sell to loyal customers within it, they paint quite the picture. That’s just scratching the surface of what the reality has been for countless makers, brands and founders of companies big, small, heritage and fledging since January 1 2021. As Sarah continues in her document, ‘This is not teething issues. This is not people not filling in paperwork correctly. This is widespread and unavoidable trade friction because of leaving the single market.’

There are the problems that were expected – shipping costs and lengthy customs processes – and then those that have come quite out of left field; interior designer Charlotte Buchanan, who is the founder of Buchanan Studio, said ‘a fabric supplier in Belgium which we are using for our upcoming product range sold out of thousands of metres of fabric within 24 hours [in December, just before Brexit came into force]. He said he’d never known anything like it and it’s put us on backorder with a four-month delay now on new stock.’ However, speaking to interior designers, brand founders and creatives across the industry, the main issues are the same for all: customs, shipping and delays. A lot of UK companies use parts made by artisans in the EU, as that is where a lot of traditional skills still exist. This means that even British companies who produce their products here are suffering. ‘We pay duty for the goods we manufacture anywhere in the world when we import them into the UK,’ explains Esti Barnes, founder of flooring company Topfloor. ‘When we sell them to the EU, our client in the EU also pays duty based on the certificate of origin. So the goods are taxed twice in two different countries. It makes the product too expensive and non-sellable and that makes us less competitive in the EU market.’

Duncan Campbell of Campbell Rey agrees; ‘We have projects in the UK, Europe and the US, and work with specialist makers all over the world. We love to manufacture furniture in the UK where possible, but some things cannot be made here. The workshop that manufactures our glasses in Venice is incredibly specialised and those skills simply don’t exist anywhere else. Products with a high production cost and low margins may simply become unviable commercially for us with the added import duties resulting from Brexit. One of our factories in Murano used to employ 200 people and now there are two masters left, so we’re quite literally watching these skills disappear before our eyes. Anything that encourages that decline is a tragedy.’

All this back and forth, getting parts into the UK or shipping finished products out is where the real fun – and that word carries extreme sarcasm – begins. ‘All imports now have new import and export customs costs, which adds an extra £150 to each shipment,’ interior designer Maurizio Pellizzoni told me. ‘In addition, because of the various delays at customs and the extra time it is now taking for a driver to come to the UK, all shipping costs have increased by around 10 per cent since December 2020.’ Maurizio’s first shipment to Italy post-Brexit was £350 more expensive than before, mostly due to paperwork. Paperwork is causing real problems, with most people I spoke to telling me that a large part of the problem is no one tells you how to fill it out properly. ‘I think the European transport issue is worse than people expected in that no one, specialists included, seems to know the rules,’ confirms Duncan Campbell. ‘We received a 20-page powerpoint from one of our wholesale customers with new instructions for documentation that needs to be included with every shipment.’ Even within what is clear, there is little clarity. ‘New administration charges are charged in different proportions throughout Europe,’ says Ali Milam, MD of Porta Romana, continuing, ‘No two European countries are working in the same way.’

This isn’t just an issue that affects the brands we love, it affects the customer. The extra custom costs, need for new employees and high shipping rates have to be covered somewhere, and where else is that possible than the bottom line? As Sarah Watson explains, ‘The extraordinary amount of extra time now required on all our shipments means we have to hire a new staff member to deal with our shipments. That person needs to be paid for in our product margins. If you thought we were expensive before – well it’s about to get worse. If we are going to increase our prices – l want it to be because we are paying our skilled craftsmen or London-based teams better wages. Our cost increases are not paying for highly skilled work. We are paying for bureaucracy and paperwork only.’ Ali Milam of Porta Romana agrees about the price hike, ‘Buying British has very rapidly become expensive and complicated.’

When asked about governmental help that they have found, Duncan Campbell succinctly put it: ‘The government website is unhelpful to the point of satire. The main advice seems to be hire a specialist who knows what they’re talking about!’ Paboy Bojang, who creates cushions in Naples and has a devoted fanbase here in the UK couldn’t agree more, ‘One of our major problems is that it’s really hard to find coherent and simple advice on how to keep selling to the UK from Europe and the associated duty taxes. There are thousands of sources and pages to read about it but I often find it conflicting. For us, it’s causing a lot of concern since the UK is our primary market.’ The problems, it seems, work both ways when it comes to losing out on customers and this could eventually hit EU countries in a way that forces change. For Sarah – and Maurizio – there does not seem to be that sense on hope on the horizon; as Sarah says, ‘Some in the media or the government will tell you it will get easier – and perhaps the paperwork element will get 10 per cent less shit. But it is not going to get a lot easier. And, in fact, for many companies it will get worse in July, when the full implementation takes effect.’

If you work in the design industry and have been positively or negatively affected by Brexit we want to know. Tweet us @_houseandgarden or DM us @houseandgardenuk.

Published at Fri, 30 Apr 2021 11:58:31 +0000

Article source: https://www.houseandgarden.co.uk/article/effects-of-brexit-design-industry