Clothing, footwear and fashion: international trade regulations

Regulations affecting exporters and importers in the clothing, footwear and fashion sector in the adult and children’s markets.


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.

It 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.

See the detailed guides for help with:

Export regulations

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:

First, you need to classify your goods. Use of standardised classification codes makes it easier to check if any restrictions or charges apply.

Learn how to use the Trade Tariff tool to find a commodity code.

Find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing the 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, for example the Ukraine, require exports of second-hand clothes to be washed before they’re packed for consignment. Department for International Trade will advise you on a country-by-country basis about sanitary regulations for exports of second-hand clothes and shoes.

Contact your local international trade adviser for more information.

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 and Customs (HMRC) website and see the guide on outward processing relief (OPR).

Export licensing and certification

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, for example clothing with camouflage capabilities.

Read about strategic export controls.

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 International Trade (DIT) Goods Checker.

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 or post your enquiry to:

Export Licensing Unit
Arts Council England
21 Bloomsbury St
London WC1B 3HF

For information on export licences, read the Do your goods need an export or import licence? guide.

Researching your export destination

There are various ways that you can research a potential export destination. These include:

  • online databases
  • trade associations

You can find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing the 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 your local international trade team for advice on export destinations.

Tariffs and duties

There is a range of import-specific regulations that must be complied with by all businesses in this sector. Main issues relate to the Tariff, duties 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.

Find information on customs tariffs by reading How to classify imports and exports using the UK Trade Tariff.

Details of specific tariff duties and measures are contained in the Tariff.

Find commodity codes and other measures applying to imports and exports by accessing the UK Trade Tariff.

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

The Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) allows originating products from a range of countries to be imported into the EU at a reduced or zero duty rate.

For more information on how to determine whether a product is an originating one, read Notice 830 tariff preference: new GSP rules of origin.

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 can be found on the introduction to intrastat page.

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.

Intellectual property

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.

For more information see Intellectual property and your work.

Import regulations

As the EU is a customs union, member countries you can buy most goods from other member countries without restrictions – although VAT and excise duty can still apply.

For more information, see the guide on trading in the EU.

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 licences

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: Import and Export licences.

Use the Tariff for classifying your goods in order to find out which duties and measures apply. See the guide on an How to classify imports and exports using the UK Trade 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 DIT issues licences where it needs to implement trade policy measures.

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 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:

VAT reduced and zero rates

Under VAT rules, most items of children’s clothing and footwear are eligible for a reduced rate of 0% 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.

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 Telephone: 0845 010 9000.

Sources of help and support

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 Department for International Trade.

Trade associations and other bodies

Links to useful associations for exporters are listed below:

You can also find contact details for trade associations and other bodies from our website.

Further information

HMRC Tariff Classification Email Advice Service

HM Revenue and Customs Tariff Classification email service.

Department for International Trade (DIT) Enquiry Line

Telephone: 020 7215 5000

ECJU Helpline

Telephone: 020 7215 4594

HMRC VAT Helpline

Telephone: 0300 200 3700

DIT International trade team

Trade data information on the uktradeinfo website

Import and export procedures

OGEL and Goods Checker Tools

Outward Processing Relief information

Export licensing information on the Arts Council website

Import goods licences

Clothing labelling information on the Trading Standards website

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