Clothing, footwear and fashion: international trade regulations
This guide provides an overview of the clothing, footwear and fashion sector in the adult and children’s markets, the key regulations you will need to comply with as an exporter or importer and selected sources of further help and support.
This guide will show you how to research your export destination for a wide range of garments and products, comply with and benefit from tariffs and duties and meet the quality requirements for children’s clothing in particular.
You can find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing the free online UK Trade Tariff.
Export regulations in the clothing, footwear and fashion sector
Regulations, charges or other restrictions may apply to clothing, footwear and fashion exports as they leave the UK and when they arrive at their destination country. It is important that you research both sides of the transaction.
For more information, see the guides on exporting your goods from the EU to a third country and dispatching your goods within the EU.
First, you need to classify your goods. Use of standardised classification codes makes it easier to check if any restrictions or charges apply. You can use the Integrated Tariff of the United Kingdom (the Tariff) to classify your goods. For more information, see the guide on classification of goods.
Find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing the free online UK Trade Tariff.
Remember that in general it is much simpler to trade with other EU countries than with countries outside the EU. This is because the goods are in free circulation. The EU is a single market and the UK is in a Customs Union, so you can trade with other EU countries without restriction (although some local charges may still apply).
Some markets, eg the Ukraine, require exports of second-hand clothes to be washed before they’re packed for consignment. UK Trade & Investment advisers will advise you on a country-by-country basis about sanitary regulations for exports of second-hand clothes and shoes. Find your local international trade team on the UK Trade & Investment website.
Exporting goods for processing
You may be able to obtain relief from customs duties when you re-import EU goods that have previously been exported from the EU for processing. Outward Processing Relief (OPR) enables you to claim relief from customs duty if you can show that the exported goods were used in - or incorporated into - the products being imported.
Before you can claim duty relief under OPR, however, you must have the appropriate authorisation. For more information, read notice 235 on OPR on the HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) website and see the guide on outward processing relief (OPR).
Export licensing and certification in the clothing, footwear and fashion sector
If you export goods with military uses or textiles or garments over 50 years old and above a certain value, you will need an export licence.
Goods with military uses
You may require an export licence for goods with a potential military use, eg clothing with camouflage capabilities. Read about strategic export controls in the section on the Export Control Organisation.
An export licence is required in order to export specified goods with military uses - eg camouflage textiles or garments. You should consult the Military List and Dual-Use List to find out if you need a licence for any product. You can also find out if restrictions apply to your exports on the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) Goods Checker website (registration required).
Watch a video about your export control responsibilities and how you can ensure you have the correct licences on the BIS website.
Textiles or garments over 50 years old
Textiles or garments that are over 50 years old and worth more than £12,000 need an export licence as they qualify as antiques or works of art. These licences are issued by the Arts Council Export Licensing Unit.
Contact the Arts Council Export Licensing Unit on 020 7973 5188, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or post your enquiry to:
Export Licensing Unit
Arts Council England
14 Great Peter Street
For information on export licences, read the guide Do your goods need an export or import licence?
Researching your export destination
As a starting point you may wish to seek advice from UK Trade & Investment. Find your local international trade team on the UK Trade & Investment website.
There are also various ways that you can research a potential export destination. These include:
- online databases - you can search by destination country and category of goods on the Market Access Database website
- trade associations
You can find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing the free online UK Trade Tariff.
You should also consider product safety and other technical standards in your export market. Your goods may need to be adapted to comply with these where they differ from those in the UK.
For a general guide to market information on sectors and countries, see the guide on researching and entering overseas markets.
Find information on exporting on the UK Trade & Investment website.
Tariffs and duties in the clothing, fashion and footwear industry
There is a range of import-specific regulations that must be complied with by all businesses in this sector. The key issues relate to the Tariff, duties, Intrastat and intellectual property (IP).
Using the Integrated Tariff
A common customs tariff is applied across all EU countries on goods imported from outside the EU. Details of specific tariff duties and measures are contained in the Integrated Tariff of the United Kingdom.
Find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing our free online UK Trade Tariff.
For more information on classifying your goods, see the guide on classification of goods.
The Tariff is used to determine the specific classification code of your goods and to find out:
- any licensing requirements that apply
- the rates of duty and import VAT that apply
- any additional charges, such as anti-dumping duties
- any available preferential duty rates
Preferential rates of duty
Often used by textile industry traders, the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) allows originating products from a wide range of countries to be imported into the EU at a reduced or zero rate of duty. For more information on how to determine whether a product is an originating one, read Notice 830 - Tariff Preference: New GSP rules of origin on the HMRC website.
The European Community has a number of other preferential trade agreements with third countries (countries outside the EU), as a result of which goods may attract preferential rates of duty.
If you are VAT registered and the goods you acquire from or supply to VAT-registered businesses in other EU countries reach the Intrastat exemption threshold for the year, you must submit monthly supplementary declarations to HMRC. The thresholds are £600,000 for Arrivals and £250,000 for Dispatches.
Intrastat is the method of collecting information and producing statistics on goods traded between EU member states. See the guide on Intrastat - reporting the value and volume of intra-EU trade. Intrastat is only applicable to VAT-registered traders.
You should ensure that imported goods do not breach the IP rights of other businesses, eg watch out for counterfeit goods and design infringements. Infringing goods can be seized and destroyed by HMRC. You can ask HMRC to check for imported counterfeit versions of your goods. Read how HMRC can help protect your IP rights on the HMRC website.
Import regulations in the clothing sector
As the EU is a Customs Union, you can buy most goods from other member countries without restrictions - although VAT and excise duty can still apply.
If you import from outside the EU, you may have to comply with import licensing requirements and with common customs tariffs that apply across the EU. For more information, see the guide on importing your goods from outside the EU.
Import restrictions can be product-specific or trade-specific. Many products are subject to product-specific standards and need to be supported by applicable certificates, product-specific licences and documentation.
Quite separately, quantitative restrictions or limitations and anti-dumping duties may apply to certain imported commodities. For more information, see the guide on anti-dumping and countervailing duties.
For help identifying whether you require an import licence see the guide: do you need an export or import licence?
Use the Tariff for classifying your goods in order to find out which duties and measures apply. See the guide on an introduction to the Tariff.
The trade in some goods may be prohibited unless you have a specific licence issued by the competent authority.
The Import Licensing Branch of the BIS issues licences where it needs to implement trade policy measures. Trade restrictions currently include certain textiles originating in Belarus, North Korea and Uzbekistan. Import licences are no longer required for certain textiles originating in China - for further information download Notice 2767 from the BIS website (PDF, 32K).
Safety regulations and labelling requirements
If you sell imported clothes and footwear in the UK, you need to check that your products meet relevant safety regulations and labelling requirements, including:
- the Footwear (Indication of Composition) Labelling Regulations 1995 - download guidance on footwear labelling from the BIS website (PDF, 58K)
- the Textile Products (Indication of Fibre Content) Regulations 1986 - find information on how to label items of clothing on the Trading Standards website
- correct use of the textile names set out in EU directives, you can download Directive 2008/121/EC setting out definitions and tables of textile fibres from the Europa website (PDF, 116K)
Clothes sizes tend to vary from country to country and even from store to store. There are no regulations that you have to follow by law, but there are three European standards on clothes sizing which aim to establish a common sizing system. They are known as: EN 13402-1:2001, EN 13402-2:2002 and EN 13402-3:2004.
You must also comply with safety requirements for children’s clothes and footwear.
Domestic business standards
Goods imported into the UK must comply with domestic business standards, including safeguarding any intellectual property, pollution regulations, and packaging and textile labelling rules. You must also comply with other product safety standards, such as nightwear labelling and restrictions on the use of some dyes.
Importing children’s clothing into the UK
When you import children’s clothing and footwear, you will need to meet certain quality requirements if they are being sold to customers in the UK.
Regulations applicable to children’s clothing
The rules and regulations you should be aware of include:
- the General Product Safety Regulations 2005
- the Children’s Clothing (Hood Cords) Regulations 1976
- the Nightwear (Safety) Regulations 1985
You can read further details about the regulations affecting children’s clothing on the National Archives website.
BSI Code of Practice
A BSI British Standards Code of Practice (reference number BS 7907:2007) is available to purchase. It recommends materials, design and manufacturing guidelines to promote the safety of children’s clothing. Read detailed information about BS 7907:2007 on the BSI website (registration required).
VAT reduced and zero rates
Under VAT rules, most items of children’s clothing and footwear are eligible for a reduced rate of 0 per cent VAT (ie no VAT) in the UK, but there are some exceptions. If your business has been declared exempt from VAT registration because it only sells zero-rated items, you should check that the items you are importing meet the necessary requirements. You can find out about the conditions for VAT zero-rating on the HMRC website.
Some goods are also outside the scope for VAT, which means you do not need to charge VAT. Generally, goods are considered outside the scope if they are supplied by someone who isn’t VAT registered, supplied outside the UK or the Isle of Man, or if the goods are not part of your daily business. See the guide on VAT rates explained: standard, reduced, zero, exempt.
If you are unsure whether to charge VAT on your goods, call the HMRC VAT helpline on 0845 010 9000.
Sources of help and support in the clothing, footwear and fashion sector
As an importer or exporter in the clothing, footwear and fashion sector, you can turn to a range of bodies for help and information.
The government organisation with primary responsibility for providing trade support is UK Trade & Investment. You can find information on the services they offer to exporters on the UKTI website.
You can also find details of your local International Trade Team using a postcode search on the UKTI website.
Government sources of help and information
In addition to UK Trade & Investment, other government bodies that provide business support in the clothing, footwear and fashion sector include:
- HMRC - you can find information about importing and exporting on the HMRC website
Trade associations and other bodies
Links to useful associations for exporters are listed below:
- visit the British Fashion Council website
- find out about the Creative Industries Unit of the British Council on the British Council website
- visit the Textile Recycling Association website
- visit the British Fur Trade Association website
- visit the 5 Portland Place website
You can also find contact details for trade associations and other bodies from our website.
HMRC Tariff Classification Service Enquiry Line
01702 366 077
UK Trade & Investment Enquiry Line
020 7215 8000
BIS ECO Helpline
020 7215 4594
HMRC VAT Helpline
0845 010 9000