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Fashion: where manufacturing meets creativity

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The fashion industry is responsible for more than just the latest trends. Between retail outlets, manufacturers and links in the supply chain, Europe’s fashion sector accounts for hundreds of thousands of companies and millions of jobs. The Commission is taking the necessary steps to ensure that the industry continues to thrive, including eliminating trade barriers, protecting intellectual property and facilitating entry into international markets.

The fashion industry creates a variety of clothes and accessories – but it also creates jobs. Supporting almost 850.000 companies and 5 million jobs – not to mention another 3 million jobs in the supply chain – the European fashion industry is a significant part of the economy. It forms complex and strongly interlinked value chains, from design and manufacturing to distribution and retail. As European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani explains:  ‘The European fashion industries need to be given the adequate conditions to remain competitive in order to take advantage of new opportunities, such as increased internationalisation. The Commission is committed to making sure this happens’.

A complex, creative sector

The fashion industry links the past and the future, tradition and innovation, old and new. Fashion is about craftsmanship and manufacturing skills, but also about modern technologies and successful business models. Moreover, it has to keep up with ever-changing fashion trends and the various collections created every year.

The fashion industry’s impact and spill-over effect on other sectors, such as the tourism and media industries, is undeniable. This means that creating and maintaining jobs, supporting growth and fighting unemployment are crucial issues not just for fashion enthusiasts, but for economic stability throughout Europe.

Boosting competitiveness, addressing challenges

However, in the current economic context, EU enterprises face extreme challenges in the fashion industry. This is due in part to increased competition and undervalued currencies, but also to existing trade and investment barriers in third countries, which pose obstacles for European products to reach new markets and distribution networks. Therefore, ensuring a level playing field in international trade is a priority. That’s why the Commission is working to prevent protectionist trade regulations and eradicate measures that stifle foreign investment.

Another challenge concerns intellectual property rights (IPR). Breaches ofIPR are accelerated by the increasing digitalisation of the market. Infringements are a serious threat to the EU economy and especially to fashion, where creativity is at the core of the production process. The problem is compounded because SMEs often lack the necessary knowledge and means to protect their rights.

The Commission is exploring new measures to efficiently tackle the issue at a European and international level, for example by linking the activities of the IPR support mechanisms such as the EU SME Centre and the China IPR SME Helpdesk. Moreover, in order to improve the exchange of information, the Anti-Counterfeit and Piracy Information System program, or COPIS, is being developed to handle all customs-related concerns dealing with IPR.

Europe needs to invest in creativity

The decline of the manufacturing industry is also a challenge, creating a lack of young skilled employees. This could, in the long-run, hamper the competitiveness of the fashion industry.

To that end, the Commission has launched several initiatives in the field of education, training and skills, including a programme called European Skills, Competences and Occupations, or ESCO, and the Sector Skills Council. Initiatives could also be developed to raise awareness amongst young people about career paths and opportunities in the fashion industry.

Because the vast majority of companies in the sector are SMEs, the Commission promotes the adoption of new business models and the commercial use of creative ideas through the future SME support program COSME. The ‘WORTH Pilot Project‘, to be launched in 2013, also encourages market-oriented support and advice for small manufacturers and craftsmen with the support of designers.

In addition, the Commission will seek to strengthen the existing Euro-Mediterranean dialogue to help create a level playing field on the international market in order to create common industrial strategies.

The EU-China Standardisation Information Platform, or CESIP, also makes standards and related technical regulations more accessible for companies, particularly SMEs. Given the large number of standards in the fashion industries, an effective policy option would be to extend this platform to these industries.


CESIP: EU-China Standardisation Information Platform

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Overview of the European Fashion Industry:

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