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These are the top UK fashion cities outside of London

By Rachel Douglass


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Princess Street, Manchester, UK. Image: Unsplash

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.


Bath, Somerset. Image: Unsplash

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 Tripadvisor and 2.6 thrift stores per square mile.


York, UK. Image: Unsplash

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.


Leeds, UK. Image: Unsplash

Another industrial powerhouse is Leeds, home of supermarket fashion chain George by Asda and the first Harvey Nichols store to open outside of London, which was unveiled in 1996. Its history is firmly steeped in fashion as a whole, so much so that it is often considered to be built entirely upon the industry. Leeds’ link to textiles dates back to the Middle Ages in the form of cloth-making Fulling Mills, which had defined the city as a leader in woollen production. The evidence of this time period can still be seen today in the remains of buildings and plaques that mark notable locations. In the modern day, it seems the city has continued to hold its place in fashion, which regularly sees it pitted against Manchester as a direct competitor.

It is also home to institutions that look to nurture the future of fashion in the region, including Leeds Arts University and Leeds Beckett University, where it is possible to study fashion-related bachelors. While both of the universities appeared in The Guardian’s ranking for top UK places to study fashion and textiles, snapping up the 21st and 22nd spots, Leeds University itself is also grabbing the reins through its Future Fashion Factory, a programme formed in partnership with fashion retailers aiming to develop environmentally-friendly forms of clothing production. Meanwhile, Leeds occupants are also behind the city’s fashion drive. While the city is home to a horde of notable UK fashion influencers, occupants of the West Yorkshire city have also previously been known to spend on average 1,033 pounds on clothing and footwear annually (ONS 2018 report).


Newcastle Upon Tyne, Tyne River. Image: Unsplash

We look even more north for the list’s next suiter, all the way to the eastern coast of Newcastle Upon Tyne. Dubbed ‘the gateway of the north’, this historic city’s place on the River Tyne means that its nature is thoroughly intertwined with its urban architecture. The ‘Geordie’ city has been known to churn out some notable figures in the fashion industry, many descending from Northumbria University, which placed 16th on The Guardian’s university ranking for fashion courses and was where Nigel Cabourn and Scott Henshall studied. It was also the birthplace of famed designer John Bates, who died last year. Bates was a player in the UK’s Swinging Sixties period, and was known for his work that appeared in both editorials and film, and his links to the industry as a whole.

Today, while Newcastle particularly draws visitors due to its skyline, featuring seven famous bridges, it has also become known for its retail offering, particularly that of its three major shopping centres, including Metrocentre – one of the UK’s largest retail parks. The city is additionally home to its flagship department store Fenwick, which was founded in 1882 and has since opened up nine branches throughout the country, riding on its long-standing success. The coastal link allows for Newcastle’s retail offering to also be accessible internationally, with a port suitably situated for those looking to visit the city for shopping – and its infamous nightlife. Such a strong positioning has seen Newcastle land in fourth place on Which’s list of the best UK cities for shopping, where it achieved a visitor score of 80 percent and a rating of four stars.


Brighton, UK. Image: Unsplash

With stunning views and a quirky appearance, Brighton has long been at the centre of counterculture in the UK, making it the setting of a number of cult films and the home of many indie bands. Since 1850, when Queen Victoria labelled Brighton locals “indiscreet and troublesome”, the town has continued to bear the flag of its nonconformist attitude, becoming a hotbed of creative communities, LGBTQ+ homesteads and contrasting subcultures. It has further been known to nourish now widely successful designers, namely Julian Macdonald, who studied textiles at the city’s Faculty of Arts and Architecture before becoming a Master student of the Royal College of Art, London. Brighton’s University, in the meantime, also made it onto The Guardian’s ranking of fashion and textiles universities, sitting at a modest 30 for its Bachelor courses on Fashion & Dress History and Fashion Communication with Business Studies.

While often deemed as ‘London by the sea’, Brighton’s retail landscape remains vastly different to that of the ‘Big Smoke’. It is particularly popular as a destination for independent retailers, as evidenced in a study by Radical Storage, where the city was found to have 21 independent businesses per 10,000 people, putting it in the number one spot on the platform’s ranking. The seaside town is additionally known for its sustainable offerings, boasting a wide array of vintage stores and charity shops allowing for eco-friendly options to be more accessible to visitors. Such breadth of choice here was the driving cause for the rise in ‘Brighton Style’ – a way of dressing linked to the creative town, often defined by experimentation, individuality and a lack of self-consciousness.


Edinburgh, UK. Image: Unsplash

The winding roads of Edinburgh jump seamlessly between time periods, taking you through everything from contemporary high street shopping districts to mediaeval cobblestone alleyways. This also makes it the ideal setting for both independent businesses and large scale retailers, each of which have cemented their place in the Scottish capital attracting both locals and tourists who descend on its historic streets. Its reputation among indies is particularly stark, seeing it placed third on Radical Storage’s best UK cities for independents, with 19.2 of such retailers per 10,000 people. It also placed highly in Wynsors study, which found the city to have the most thrift stores of any other on its list at 130 – 2.83 per square mile.

The city, often referred to as ‘Auld Reekie’, has bred a fair few designers of its own. A graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, Holly Fulton went on to become a London Fashion Week regular, while Patrick Grant became director of Savile Row tailor Norton & Sons and a judge on the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee. Edinburgh University is additionally credited with having a strong programme for those wishing to study fashion, placing sixth on The Guardian’s ranking, where its bachelors in fashion, performance design and textiles are highlighted. Its place in fashion education is further emphasised in the National Museum of Scotland, where it is possible to view a permanent art, design and fashion gallery, exhibiting pieces by the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Zandra Rhodes and Jean Muir. Its place in fashion is set to further be bolstered, with the anticipated launch of the first Edinburgh Fashion Week.

Honourable mentions


Home of British retail giant Quiz, Glasgow is certainly up there as a fashion city. The Northern Scottish municipality is the birthplace of many notable designers, including Jonathan Saunders and Charles Jeffrey, and boasts its own institute – Glasgow School of Art – where it is possible to study fashion design and textile design, among other things.


Like Brighton, Bristol has also become increasingly known for its alternative scene, with a growing community of young creatives choosing the South Western city as their home over the last few decades. Last year, the ‘British Seattle’, as it is occasionally called, was also selected to be the site for the first UK Sustainable Fashion Week, where visitors could take part in panels, workshops and clothing swaps each promoting eco-friendly practices.


Syrian-born, Sheffield-raised Nabil El-Nayal is one of the handful of recognisable names that has emerged from the ‘Steel City’, so called because of its industry dominance during the 19th and 20th centuries. The location’s retail landscape is also strong, placing second in Kathryn’s ranking of the most fashionable cities in the UK due to its 3.78 vintage stores and 9.45 fashion influencers per person. This year will additionally mark Sheffield’s last Runway Idol event, a charity fashion show that is now in its fifth and final edition. Brands participating include retail giants like In The Style and The Couture Club, as well as local indies, such as Reece Ford Suit Hire.