It is no secret that London is one of the fashion capitals of the world, the central organ of the UK’s fashion industry and therefore where businesses, retailers and designers tend to gravitate towards in the hope of achieving both local and international success.
However, in recent years, it appears that despite its breadth, fashion seems to have outgrown even the capital, as more and more cities outside of the English capital become hotbeds for increasingly influential creative communities and educational powerhouses. While many of these cities have a history rooted in fashion and are thus building on existing foundations, some are actively and intentionally beginning to construct their own position within the industry in the hope of bringing fashion closer to home.
In light of this increasing interest in turning towards alternative sources of inspiration and business opportunities, FashionUnited has compiled a list (made in no particular order) of cities outside of London that are currently drawing in the fashion crowd with their deep history and lucrative retail offerings.
If there was ever a city that could give London a run for its money as the UK’s fashion capital, it’s Manchester. The Northern Powerhouse, once known as ‘Cottonopolis’ due to its integral role in the 19th century cotton industry, is now a bustling metropolis of indie stores and vintage shops that offer up an alternative to high-street shopping – although, this element is still a prominent feature among the city’s main shopping streets. Next to events like biannual fashion trade show Just Around the Corner and the newly established Northern Fashion Week, the city has also birthed numerous acclaimed fashion designers, namely that of Vivienne Westwood, Matthew Williamson, William Baker and Henry Holland. A number of large-scale fashion conglomerates also call the ‘Rainy City’ the home of their headquarters, including the Boohoo Group, Pretty Little Thing and JD Sports.
Consumers are another driving force for the city, with a study by Chums finding that Mancunians were sixth highest in clothing spending in the UK. This was further backed up in a report by ONS in 2018, which stated that people in Greater Manchester were spending an average of 1,007 pounds on clothing and footwear annually. Manchester’s link to fashion is no surprise, as the city’s history is rooted in the industry, dating back to the 18th century when it was at the forefront of the UK’s entire cotton and textile trade. Starting with the opening of the world’s first textile mill powered by steam in 1781, its number of mills increased beyond 100 over time. The Cotton Board, based in the city until 1972, also played a part in its status, and was responsible for the launch of the city’s first fashion week in the 1950s. Manchester then became known for its historic shopping districts, most notably that of Spinningfields and The Northern Quarter, the latter of which was developed by a number of parties in the 1990s.
The Georgian town of Bath is known for its string of listed and Regency period buildings and picturesque landscape accommodating numerous fashion boutiques and prominent vintage stores. The city, which was once home to Jane Austen in the 19th century and is one of the only cities in the UK designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, often finds itself at the centre of period dramas. However, while it is clearly culturally-rich, its place in fashion is also firm. So much so that the famous footwear designer Manolo Blahnik fell in love with the city on his visits as a boy, ultimately leading him to buy a property on Camden Crescent, the interior of which can be viewed in the book ‘The Charming Mr Blahnik’ by Ivan Terestchenko.
The city additionally used to be home to the famous Bath Fashion Museum, where notable exhibitions had been held with an archive that boasted nearly 100,000 fashion items from various time periods. Ultimately, the venue was forced to shut its doors when The National Trust, the organisation it shared its home with, broke its lease last year. While plans to reopen the museum are continuing to unfold, the leader of the Bath and North East Somerset Council, Kevin Guy, still has high hopes for Bath’s relationship with fashion. During a council meeting in March, Guy said that, as part of a 15 to 20 year aspiration, he was planning to build the city into a leading centre for European fashion. It already appears to be on its way there as, according to a report by Wynsors in the beginning of 2023, Bath was found to be the UK’s most fashionable city, boasting over 92 shopping listings on Tripadviser and 2.6 thrift stores per square mile.
Founded by the Romans and still bearing signs of its mediaeval past, York plays a substantial role in England’s history as a whole. Among the nooks and crannies of its winding streets, often lined with haunted pubs and tearooms, hordes of independent boutiques call this place their home. In fact, according to a study by Wynsors, it is the second top city in the UK when it comes to the number of shops by area, boasting 8.07 retail spaces per square mile. Its retail offering also saw it land in second place on Which’s best UK cities for shopping report, achieving a visitor score of 86 percent and a rating of four stars.
The city is trying to further bolster its position in UK fashion with York Fashion Week, a biannual event that looks to act as a platform for indie brands and creatives from the north. And while indies do tend to do well in York’s narrow alleys – placing it second in Bionic’s ranking for best UK towns for independent businesses due to its highest business survival rate – it has also been known to foster some global talent. Most notably, the city was the birthplace to founder and former creative director of Mulberry, Scott Henshall, as well as to Matty Bovan, an LVMH Graduate Prize winner who has returned to the Northern hub to set up a base for his eponymous label.