Our New Future
Our New Future

‘You have to be quite brave in these times,’ says top fashion designer on running a business during the pandemic

Key Points
  • The highly-respected designer and businesswoman, who is a non-executive director of the British Fashion Council, praised the U.K. government's furlough scheme.
  • Anya Hindmarch has also been a long-time advocate for sustainability within the fashion industry.
  • The iconic designer, who founded her business in 1987, says fashion is a very, very polluting industry.
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Anya Hindmarch: We need to act now on sustainability

Internationally-acclaimed British designer Anya Hindmarch told CNBC that having to "shut and hibernate" her stores due to the coronavirus pandemic was a shock to the system, but believes a focus on digital has been a "lifesaver" for driving the business forward.

"Obviously making sure everyone was not too scared and too nervous, that was the biggest priority, and then I think it's really driving the digital business," the celebrated luxury accessories designer said last week during London Fashion Week. 

"It's actually a good opportunity in many respects, to have all my time focused on that, I actually really enjoyed that. But even that requires certain logistics that were quite hard to achieve in the early days, but we've sort of got a good system going now," she continued.

Hindmarch said she is also trying to plan and budget in case of another lockdown response to the pandemic, as Covid-19 cases continue to rise again in the U.K. Warnings of 50,000 cases per day by mid-October has jolted British politicians into action, with tighter restrictions being announced this week.

The highly-respected designer and businesswoman, who is a non-executive director of the British Fashion Council, also praised the U.K. government's furlough scheme, which is due to end on Oct. 31, for helping many businesses with no income to maintain jobs during the crisis.

She said the scheme — which continued to pay 80% of the wages of almost 10 million U.K. workers placed on leave throughout the crisis, up to £2,500 ($3,200) per month — was "the right thing at the right time," but that it's important for companies to grow themselves again.

"I think it's been a lifesaver for many businesses, so I think that's good. But clearly also we can't, no business can rely on the government to pay its wages, and it's important that people are weaned off that to grow again," she said.

Asked if she had ever worried about losing her own business during the pandemic lockdown, Hindmarch said "luckily not," but the experience "forces you to rethink how you do your business."

"I think you have to be quite brave in these times. It's important not to kind of just do the same old muscle memory and do what you were used to doing. You actually have to think quite differently," she said.

Pedestrians pass in front of Zara fashion store, operated by Inditex SA, store in the Upper East Side neighborhood of New York, on Friday, March 20, 2020.
Gabby Jones | Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sustainability

Hindmarch has also been a long-time advocate for sustainability within the fashion industry. Demand for her limited-edition "I'm not a plastic bag" tote bag which she designed and created in 2007, grabbed global headlines, raising awareness of the issue of single-use plastic.

She recently revisited the theme — but with a spin — producing the "I am a plastic bag" collection of luxury handbags made from a fabric produced by recycled plastic bottles.

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And for her latest, "Waste not want not" patchwork collection, she has repurposed leather off-cuts which would normally be wasted.

Hindmarch told CNBC it is time to act on sustainability. "It's really interesting isn't it how much we've all done and how much we've sacrificed actually for this Covid situation which, while scary, is frankly a drop in the ocean compared to how serious the issues of an overheated planet are … I think it's really genuinely urgent this problem, talk to any expert. It's scary, and we need to act," she said.

The iconic designer, who founded her business in 1987, says fashion is a very, very polluting industry and people need to demand better sourced items, more transparency in supply chains and use recycled materials. "It's about a circular economy," she said.