Journal Article

Can fast fashion save the US apparel industry?

Peter Doeringer and Sarah Crean

in Socio-Economic Review

Published on behalf of Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics

Volume 4, issue 3, pages 353-377
Published in print September 2006 | ISSN: 1475-1461
Published online March 2006 | e-ISSN: 1475-147X | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ser/mwl014
Can fast fashion save the US apparel industry?

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  • Moral Philosophy
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The US apparel industry employed over 1 million workers as late as 1980, but today it employs only about one-third of that number. The common explanation for this collapse is the delocalization of production to low wage countries, but this neglects advantages of speed, flexibility and proximity to centres of fashion and design that have helped some suppliers in high wage countries, such as Italy, to defend niche markets for fashionable products. This paper examines the question of why the US apparel industry has failed to tap these advantages. Based upon the analysis of both national data and original field research in the New York garment industry, it argues that the US industry has relied too long on an industry model based on ‘mass fashion’ products, the scale and scope economies of large-scale suppliers and mass retailers, and innovations in information technologies as sources of competitiveness, while ignoring the importance of niche product innovation, small-scale supply chains and flexible retailing, and ‘collaboration economies’ in design and production networks. Even in New York City, where small firms and fashion markets are important, the dominance of the large-scale mass-fashion model has inhibited contractors from developing highly productive and entrepreneurial supply networks that combine design with manufacturing and take full advantage of their potential for speed, flexibility and quality production.

Keywords: contracting networks; markets and hierarchies; New York garment district; JEL classification: L22, L24, L25

Journal Article.  8675 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Moral Philosophy ; Corporate Social Responsibility ; Welfare Economics ; Political Economy ; Economic Sociology

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