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British Luxury Is Booming, but Automotive, Not Fashion, Is Driving Growth

LONDON — Despite Brexit, the government’s refusal to restore tax-free shopping, and sticky supply chain issues post-COVID-19, British luxury is flourishing, driven primarily by sales of cars, food and fashion.

According to a new report by industry lobby Walpole, British luxury is worth 81 billion pounds a year to the U.K. economy, and supports 450,000 jobs.

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“Luxury in the Making” is Walpole’s first study in five years and was produced in association with Frontier Economics. It said the sector’s contribution to the economy grew 69 percent between 2017 and 2022, and is equivalent to 3.7 percent of GDP.

Total exports for the luxury sector are 56 billion pounds, up 45 percent in the five-year period.

The automotive industry, which includes brands such as Aston Martin, Bentley, Jaguar Land Rover, McLaren and Rolls-Royce, was the number-one driver of sales during the period.

With annual turnover of nearly 33 billion pounds, the automotive industry is worth more than the country’s other big luxury sectors — food and drink; fashion and accessories; retailers and e-tailers — combined.

The report noted that automotive’s strong performance comes despite Britain’s departure from the European Union, supply chain issues and the rise in energy costs post-COVID-19

Michael Ward, Walpole chairman and managing director of Harrods, said British luxury “has shown incredible resilience and strength over the past, unprecedented few years.” Ward pointed to lockdowns, Brexit, and the scrapping of the VAT Retail Export Scheme, which offered non-EU tourists tax back on luxury purchases.

Ward added that the new report demonstrates “how critical the U.K.’s luxury sector is to our economic and cultural life,” and described it as “one of the most vibrant and high-growth industries of the future.”

Edward Green shoemakers, based in Northampton, England.
Edward Green shoemakers, based in Northampton, England.

Walpole believes the future is bright.

Forecasts in the report indicate that, by 2028, British luxury as a whole could contribute 125 billion pounds a year to the British economy, meaning the sector would generate more revenue than the life sciences and construction industries.

But the report argued that luxury businesses will only grow if the government offers more support for the sector in the form of tax reform and the expansion of certain intellectual property laws.

Helen Brocklebank, Walpole’s chief executive officer, said the U.K. luxury industry “deserves recognition and support to ensure our high-growth sector continues to flourish.”

The report calls on government to extend intellectual property laws to products such as Savile Row tailoring and Staffordshire pottery, giving them “protected” status similar to Scotch whisky, Jersey potatoes or Welsh beef.

It added that intellectual property protections are especially important in areas like Stoke-on-Trent, where pottery skills are in danger of being lost.

The report also addressed the industry’s long-running battle with the government to restore tax-free shopping for non-U.K. visitors.

It said the failure to introduce a new scheme would cause the U.K. to miss out on potential growth, tax receipts and employment opportunities.

Walpole quoted a figure from the Association of International Retail that luxury shopkeepers could potentially lose 1.5 billion pounds a year to tax-free EU competitors such as pounds France and Italy.

Walpole, a not-for-profit organization, is the U.K.’s only sector body for luxury and represents more than 250 brands, including Alexander McQueen, Aston Martin, Burberry, Claridge’s, Glenfiddich, Harrods and Wedgwood.

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