Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Is patriotism the answer to recession?

Since Christmas the headlines have been filled with daily news of fashion retailers going bust. 2009 heralded a slew of administrations involving well-known names including Viyella, Emma Somerset, The Officer's Club, Morgan and Kate Kuba.

In order to support UK retailers in these troubled times, Retail Week has this week launched its "Backing UK Retail" campaign. Alongside supportive quotes from the great and the good including the Prime Minister and Phil Wrigley (New Look), Retail Week poses its readers the challenge, "They're backing UK Retail - are you?

But is a patriotic campaign such as that being promoted by Retail Week really going to make a difference? This issue was debated on Radio 4's Today programme this morning. Tim Harford, a columist for the Financial Times, recalled a previous "Back Britain" campaign launched in 1968 and endorsed by Bruce Forsyth as well as the then PM Harold Wilson (see badge from the 1968 campaign above).

While there is obvious appeal to such campaigns, Harford argues that we need to continue buying foreign goods so that they continue to buy British goods. With sterling at a record low, British made goods are already getting a welcome boost so Harford argues that a specific campaign encouraging consumers to shun foreign goods is unnecessary and ultimately unhelpful.
While a number of fashion labels are created by British designers, very few source their product here, more often product is sourced in Asia and purchased in US dollars. As a result, Fashionista reflects that in practice British labels are unlikey to get much help from patriotic campaigns or the strong pound.