Brexit: the threat to fledgling businesses

I started my sustainable fashion brand, Tom Cridland, with a government startup loan of £6,000 immediately after graduating, aged 23. Two years on we now have customers on six continents and have been featured across the international press for The 30 Year Collection, which is designed to protect natural resources by making truly durable clothing.

Working on our startup and establishing it as a brand with an international presence is a labour of love and one we have poured our heart and souls into. We’re worried that the impact that Brexit could have on small businesses such as ours might be fatal and destroy the hard work we’ve put in.

My initial idea was to build a brand specialising solely in trousers. £6,000 turned out to be completely insufficient to start a full e-commerce brand, so the first year was a huge struggle to even get the business off the ground. I ran out of money finding my supplier in Portugal and perfecting our design of trousers. We had 14 trouser colours, in luxury cotton, wool and cashmere, with an elegant but comfortable cut. Our problem: we had no stock.

Gathering every email address I could to spread the word about my new creation, I eventually afforded my first stock order by running a pre-order sale with photos of the samples on our website. At no point did I doubt my vision, just the lack of funds to pull it off. There were times when I was stretched so thin financially that I’d wonder if I could even top up my Oyster Card.

Our first big break came when we had the opportunity to make trousers for some people we hugely respect and admire, such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Hugh Grant, Stephen Fry, Rod Stewart, Brandon Flowers, Robbie Williams, Nile Rodgers and Daniel Craig.

We quickly built up our intentional press presence and customer base and our amazing suppliers in Portugal have been a crucial part of us being able to develop our unique designs and create clothing of such high quality. The possibility of a Brexit could put a huge amount of strain on our working relationship with them.

We pride ourselves on offering luxury clothing at an accessible price point, but the UK leaving the European Union (EU) could see added financial costs in doing business with our Portuguese suppliers, which would then in turn force us to raise our prices and ruin our business model. The chance of trade restrictions being imposed as a result of Brexit would also have a severe impact on our young brand.

As we are such a small team, the increased levels of bureaucracy would mean we’d have considerably less time to be creative and grow the business. These restrictions could also lead to our suppliers losing interest in working with us, as our orders are not of the same size as the bigger, corporate brands. There are many other small, startup businesses like mine which face the possibility of similar difficulties.

Nightmare scenario

If working with our suppliers is likely to become harder as a consequence of Brexit, it would be nothing compared to the strain it would put on our logistical work load. To enable us to offer such well-made clothing at a reasonable price, we sell direct to customers online with no unnecessary retail mark-ups. As an e-commerce business, therefore, we ship to a huge number of customers in the EU. With only two full-time employees, additional export regulations imposed on us as a result of Brexit would surely be a nightmare.

Why threaten the lifeblood of our recovering economy – small businesses – by leaving the EU? There will be many people who could argue very articulately against the points I’ve made and their voices should also be heard, without a doubt. That said, I am almost certain that many very small British businesses like ours, which rely on trade with Europe, could be wiped out if Brexit were to happen. The contradiction made by those in favour of Brexit – that Europe won’t turn down ‘lucrative trading’ with British businesses – doesn’t quite stack up when it comes to ones that are as small as ours.

This is something crucial that everyone in Britain needs to bear in mind. If everyone voted, Brexit would probably never happen. The problem is that those in favour of Brexit are far more passionate about their cause in general than many who would prefer to remain in the EU.

As young entrepreneurs who are simply afraid that a working life we have grown to love could be destroyed as the result of leaving it, we’d like to urge everyone to participate in the referendum to make sure the result is an accurate reflection of British opinion. It is very admirable that the pro-Brexit campaign is working so hard to do what they feel is right for our country. I would implore those who do not agree with their views to care as much as they do.

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