In fashion, as in the rest of the economy, the globalisation of taste, power and production now plays a major role. The industry is dominated by fashion capitals like Paris, London or New York, populated by star designers like Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld or Jean-Paul Gaultier and controlled through MNC giants like Prada, Gucci, DKNY and Dior, who together influence consumer preferences on a global scale. However, there are numerous smaller actors that compete successfully in the fashion industry. Sweden is one such example, where fashion is a growing.
In this thesis, there is a focus on group of small and medium sized Swedish fashion firms with a brand focused business strategy. Their products are design intensive, but their main competitive advantage rests on the brand and brand management. This group of firms are proficient at ‘putting fashion into clothes’ (Weller 2004). In other words, their main competitive advantage rests neither on price, nor on the most experimental design. More exactly, they produce clothes for a fashion conscious but not too adventurous consumer group. In the thesis it is argued that they are better described as trend forerunners than as trend setters. The subject of this thesis is this group of firms within the Swedish fashion industry and the aim is to improve understanding of their innovation processes, competitiveness, and the systemic character of the business they are a part of.
As with most other fashion firms in high cost countries, Swedish companies has outsourced the garment production. They secure their competitive edge through high value added activities like design, marketing and retail. This points to the fact that fashion has both material and immaterial dimensions: it relates to clothing, design, textile and quality, but also to consumers’ subjective feelings and attitudes towards the clothes and their brands. This is a study of the interface between these dimensions, with a focal point on the production of immaterial and symbolic value. The systemic nature of fashion can hardly be overestimated. This goes for both the practical part of clothes production, but also for the production of a belief system created not only by fashion producers but by a whole set of institutional actors. This thesis has an analysis of fashion firms’ relations to business partners, competitors, media, and consumers. It is argued that the nature of these relations is critical for competition and success.
The thesis is a collection of papers, which illuminates different parts of innovation, competition and business strategies in the fashion industry. The papers cover the central activity areas for fashion firms: how branding is affecting industrial structure and innovation, how symbolic is value created, and how ‘cool’ is used as a strategic resource.