When Life Gives You Brexit, Make Lemonade
Brexit, bloody Brexit, a whole world of pain for Brexiters and Remainers alike for more than 3 years. Most of you, well, those that can even be bothered any more, are sick to the hind teeth with the whole debacle. And who can blame anyone for giving up the ghost. At present it could look like Walesland, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England could become no man's land.
I began my own journey with an idea over 5 years ago whilst I was living in Düsseldorf, Germany. A time before Cameron fell foul of the goading Farage and the warring right. A simple idea that as a Johnny Foreigner in another country I was missing some British made stuff (mainly pies and Jaffa Cakes to be honest). But conversations with the multi-cultural community that we lived in often turned to who made the best this and who made the best that. Banter and pride all rolled into one. Italians had their food. Germans had their cars. Swedes had their women. Belgian's had their chocolate. Well, you get the gist. But one thing that most agreed on, was that if something was stamped Made in Britain, then it was usually designed well and made well.
There is a belief across the globe, that Britain does indeed make some pretty damn good shit. Always have done. (maybe apart from British Leyland in the 70's). But people honestly believe that that mark means something. It shouts heritage and gravitas to many, whichever country they come from.
Now, I am not saying everything Britain produces is world beating, but when it comes to manufacturing, engineering, design, fashion, music and culture, we are still pretty nearly top dog. Britain ranked 3rd by Statistica in their 'Made in' index, only slightly behind Germany and Switzerland. Barclays Corporate Banking conducted another survey that found that 39% of foreigners would more likely buy a product over another if it had Made in Britain on it. And incredibly, by simply promoting 'Britishness' on products it could add 3.45Billion GBP per annum to the economy.
So, I began to think that maybe we need a marketplace for all of those great products we make. Not Kiss Me Quick hats, Union Jack bags or tacky London memorabilia, which is all probably made in China anyway. But products that mean something, have real craftsmanship in them and are made by people who actually care about what they are making, have pride in the process and understand the end users’ needs. Sir Gordon Bennett wasn't and isn't just designed for Brits who have an urge to buy British. I wanted to have one place where people, any one, be they British or not, can buy products they can trust to do their job properly and have a design ethos too.
But, as I was putting the plan into action, which admittedly has took rather longer than expected, the UK voted to leave the EU. I never saw that coming.
I was an expat living in and enjoying my stay in Germany. This made me think deeper about what the hell was going to happen. Should I even carry on? How will business fair? Will there be a market anymore? Are our trade deals with other countries going to stand up? Would we as an island become insular? Or would we begin to spread our wings and have the freedom to open up new markets? I was totally confused. One minute I thought, what the hell are we doing breaking away from our biggest trading partner? Then, there is a whole world out there! Then, surely it's better the devil you know? Then, I don't want to know the devil!
There was atrocious scaremongering from both sides and it was frankly an embarrassment, especially being a Brit living abroad. Most conversations ended up in Brexit talks. Most foreigners called the leave decision, selfish and typical of Britain, always wanting it their own way. Which, until that point I never thought of us Brits like that. But it seemed that that is how we are occasionally perceived. The truth hurts sometimes.
But there is a more than a glimmer of hope. Let me throw some stats at you, which make for interesting reading. Britain is still the 9th biggest manufacturing nation on the planet. Which isn't too shabby for a group of small islands off Western Europe. But in a YouGov survey the people of these isles ranked us at 56th, 56th! That is actually the position of Kazakhstan.
The rumours of British manufacturing's death have been greatly exaggerated to coin a phrase. The media and doomsayers want you to believe that we are at the bottom of the heap, but we aren't. In fact, if British manufacturing keeps at the pace it is growing at, we could break into the top 5 in the world by 2021. Barring a disastrous Brexit of course, which undoubtedly still could occur. And to top it off British manufacturing directly employs 2.6 million people. For those directly working in industry we need to be more positive. Not in a gung ho, Brexit means Brexit rhetoric, which to me is frankly bullshit, but in a considered and logical manner.
One of the shining lights that British business and manufacturing has is that it has an abundance of craftsmen and women. Couple this with British businesses that still believe in making stuff the right way, makes us stand out in the world. We still hold a torch for skills. And even if we can not compete with the Far East when it comes to mass manufactured goods they can not compete with Britain when it comes to innate skills. We as a nation need to play to our skills. We as a nation need to support those craftsmen and women. We as a nation need to believe that we haven't lost our role to play in the world.
The truth of the matter, for me anyway, is that when life gives you lemon's make lemonade and I think that has to be true of all British businesses now. Brexit is happening, whether you want it or not. But it is the duty of each and every one of us to do our upmost in making it work. That means, hiring an apprentice to pass on skills, investing in your employees, identifying new markets, investing in R&D to make sure products have an edge, creating more streamlined business models and buying British whenever you have the opportunity. Look forward, because if you dwell on the now or the past, you won't be ready for the future.
When life gives you Brexit, make lemonade.