By Catriona Stewart.
Pictures: Gordon Terris.
THE owner of an award-winning sustainable luxury fashion business has said she fears for the future of small companies as the impact of post-Brexit import tariffs begin to bite.
Dr Antoinette Fionda-Douglas officially launched her brand Beira in 2019 and has since made waves in the fashion industry with her passionate defence of green modes of doing business.
The Edinburgh-based entrepreneur buys fabric discarded by high end fashion retailers, designs quality pieces inspired by the off-cuts and has her creations handmade in the factory of her Italian business partner, Flavio Forlani.
It is, she says, a sustainable model based on “kindness to the planet and kindness to people” that she plans to expand over the next five years.
However, Ms Fionda-Douglas says a rapid rise in import taxes is putting increased pressure on her firm and will “kill small businesses” if the government does not step in.
Ms Fionda-Douglas, who also lectures at Heriot-Watt University, said VAT on products imported from Europe has risen from around 20 per cent to 34% as the loss of preferential treatment between the UK and European Union creates a double duty impact.
She said: “The newer changes at the end of last year have made it almost impossible for small businesses moving forward.
“I am so angry and upset because what we are trying to do is something so different and beautiful; we are taking waste where we find it in Italy and making the clothes there to cut down on the carbon footprint and then shipping them to this country.
“Before, we were paying nothing, then we were paying 19%, I had a bill the other day from a shipper who was holding the product at ransom until I paid the VAT and duties, which came to 34%.
“For small businesses and start-ups this isn’t a challenge – this is a full stop for many businesses. This is going to kill businesses.”
For Beira, it means Ms Fionda-Douglas will be looking to hire fewer staff than she had planned to, “the worst outcome possible because for me – giving back and creating amazing sustainable fashion jobs is a vital part of my business model.”
She believes female entrepreneurs will be worst affected by the tariff changes.
She added: “As a female entrepreneur I have learned to fight and to keep going. Not every woman has the ability to do that because of their family situations, childcare, caring roles – all of that makes it so much harder for a female.
“A 34% increase is enough to make you think, ‘Why am I doing this?’”
Ms Fionda-Douglas believes government is failing to take meaningful action on the environmental impact of the fashion industry and suggests sustainable companies should be subject to lower rates as an incentive.
The Glasgow School of Art graduate began her fashion career in knitwear, designing for companies ranging from M&S to Ralph Lauren.
Ms Fionda-Douglas’s love of clothing began as a child when she would design creations for animals – “like hats on snakes” – in little jotters and running her own fashion company has been a lifelong ambition.
“This is a full stop for many businesses.”
Her parents who are Italian business owners, encouraged her to follow her talents and, after working for large corporations then moving into academia academia, she came up with the idea for Beira.
Going straight to source and then selling direct, currently in a pop-up store in Stockbridge, Edinburgh, means customers buy luxury, handmade goods at a third of the cost of more famous labels.
It is the antithesis of fast fashion. Between 80 billion and 150 billion new garments a year are made globally, causing a massive environmental impact.
Ms Fionda-Douglas is determined to tackle the issue of increased costs in a positive manner, partly by focusing on her plans for a new Made In Scotland label for which she is looking to source Scottish mills to work with on knitwear.
She added: “The issue of Brexit is making me look at everything more urgently but there are really exciting things coming for us over the next year. We’re determined to succeed.”