11-04-2023 Towards responsible fashion: Learning from a sustainable and slow fashion collection’s global production network
CICERONE, which is the acronym for Creative Industries Cultural Economy Production Network, is an EU-funded interdisciplinary research project which provides policymakers with a unique and innovative perspective from which to understand the cultural and creative sector (CCS). Previous analyses of this sector have typically mapped the location and the spatial distribution of clusters of creative activities. CICERONE innovates by exploring the wider context of these creative activities by looking at the wider production networks of which these are part, comprising not only production, but distribution, exchange, and archiving tasks too. Analysing the CCS through the lens of the global production network approach, we focus on two key dimensions of these networks: 1) their spatial footprints and 2) governance configuration. The project then assesses to what extent these dimensions correlate to the different levels of embeddedness of the production networks.
The project’s empirical backbone consists of a series of extensive case studies, each of which explores in-depth the networked production of a selection of varying projects in architecture, cultural heritage, artistic craft, design, the festival industry, performing and visual arts, music, publishing, and the audiovisual and radio industries. The rich empirical case study findings are used to 1) assess which quantitative data are available for mapping these networks – and which not -, and how this data could be augmented with qualitative data as to enable a more accurate measuring of the societal impact of the CCS; 2) construct a typology of production networks across the CCS; and on the basis of which 3) the project then explores the implications for effective policy support for the CCS in the areas of labour, competitiveness, sustainability and crises resilience.
These findings and their implications for policy making will be communicated through an interactive cultural economy observatory which will be developed as part of the CICERONE project. This observatory, then, facilitates ongoing debates on the economic as well as sociocultural potential of the CCS.
The case of Magenta Co.
This case study belongs to the design industry, and more particularly to fashion design. The case portrays a typical collection’s production network of a company nicknamed Magenta Co, a medium-sized Spanish brand focused on slow, sustainable fashion.
The configuration of production networks in sustainable fashion is an ongoing process with several practices occurring simultaneously. The analysis of this case study is useful to understand to what extent sustainable fashion is particularly organising its networks and the role of embeddedness in the creation and production phases.
The firm began to focus on sustainable design in the mid-2000s, coming from a retail-driven orientation, seeking to add value to the brand through a design transformation, production and distribution. Therefore, this case study could also shed light in understanding possible pathways toward greater sustainability, both for mass market and niche-oriented organizations.
The data gathered to analyse the collection was based mainly on in-depth interviews of actors involved in the production process. In the case of a sustainable brand collection, the company facilitated contacts so that we could schedule four interviews with relevant actors in the production network. Three were part of Magenta Co, based in Biscay, the Basque Country. Apart from the founder and CEO, the Artistic Director and the Logistics and Sustainability Manager provided in-depth and thorough accounts of Magenta Co’s typical collection production network. The fourth actor was a specialized supplier based in China.
Magenta Co.’s typical collection case presents a global production network whose governance and spatial footprint can be broken down in phases. The collection’s network is horizontally organized, with several actors holding power in different phases of the project. The fashion brand manages and begins the collection production project, but must negotiate and balance its development with other actors like suppliers and intermediaries.
Geographically, the creation phase is locally embedded in Biscay. The team of designers is based at the company headquarters and even if an external designer occasionally collaborates with the collection, the process is managed and fulfilled locally. The creation and production phases develop in a parallel progression. However, the production carried out by specialized suppliers is scattered globally through China, India, Portugal and Spain. These factories and textile suppliers share power with the fashion firm in the production phase, so the certifications and specifications required to produce a sustainable collection are met through a negotiation where both parts modulate their conditions. Producers do not bend to the will of the fashion firm because it is a medium size company, and its commissions cannot compete with larger organizations.
The distribution and exchange phases are intertwined, as the two former phases, and both have a global spatial footprint. The distributors, external to the company, are wholesalers that place orders before the actual production of the collection so they have the power in this phase. Intermediaries, like specialized magazines or catwalks, that curate the trends for the fashion cycle are critical in the exchange phase, and together with the certification agencies and other exchange agents are the most powerful actors in this phase. The CEO of Magenta Co also engages in promotion activities that contribute to the value appreciation of the collection, but its power is not above the other actors, rather it’s a mutually dependent relationship.
To conclude the production network, the archival phase is carried out by the creator, that is Magenta Co. The company stores each piece produced in its own archive located at its headquarters in Biscay.
Magenta Co. produces globally in China, India, Portugal and Spain. However, it is strongly embedded in the Basque Country and Biscay. The whole area has gone through a deep transformation with the Guggenheim effect and the role brands like Magenta Co have played in this evolution. Bilbao’s image and creative milieu are inspiring and foster creativity and innovation, as expressed by the head of sustainability of Magenta Co, who cherished the local dynamics that enrich the company’s production network.
However, embeddedness is not only linked to the existence of a creative hub in Bilbao but many elements in the local culture. The specific fiscal regime of the Basque Country is also a relevant element, as the company perceives that its taxes have an impact on its immediate territory.
The transformation of Bilbao into a hub for the CCSs has been widely studied and partially explains the emergence of new fashion brands in the Basque Country. Spain has not become central in the fashion circuits, partly because of the country’s isolation after the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). Nevertheless, before the Civil War, the Basque city of San Sebastián was a relevant fashion design center, concentrating a relevant part of the Spanish bourgeoisie generating demand for fashion design, whereas Bilbao remained an industrialised city linked to heavy industry. With the city’s transformation during the 1990s, including the urban renewal of its industrial area and the construction of the Guggenheim Museum, new institutional actors and private companies emerged linked to the creative and cultural sectors, including fashion design. Public institutions have also fostered the fashion design sector, and in recent years, sustainable fashion more specifically, but there is increasing competitiveness between Basque cities to foster the sector.
The company actively collaborates with other actors, including the administration, to foster a local cluster in fashion design and a sustainable fashion cluster in particular. It promotes emerging brands and a specific style linked to the territory through associations and local actions. This socio-cultural embeddedness can also be found in some of the company’s providers. The relevance of certification, environmental practices and fair work conditions mean that some suppliers are also strongly embedded in their territories, which is the case of the Indian cooperative that produces cotton and cotton clothes for the company. This cooperative has a social impact on the inclusion of women in the labour force providing quality jobs and an environmental impact through organic cotton production.
The case study shows a medium-sized company’s limited power capacity in the GPN. While the brand can transform the actors involved, these actors do not work exclusively for the brand, retaining negotiation power. The brand, settled in Bilbao, must look for know-how in different fabrics to develop innovative and sustainable designs, configuring the network in terms of costs, knowledge and sustainability. In this scenario, certification agencies play a key role, as they act as gatekeepers for connecting. They also transfer knowledge on technological and managerial innovations in sustainable fashion. Relocalisation emerges as a strategy to find both elements. Hence, the case shows how the brand can rely on existing production systems in Spain but not its region. It can rely to a larger extent on production activity in Portugal, finding know-how and innovation in sustainable fabrics and reducing emissions linked to transport. Nevertheless, there is no strong network governance between local producers and the brand, so it remains to see how it can be consolidated.
The case shows the relevance of embeddedness for the creation and the need for a strong local ecosystem fostering creativity, including institutions able to promote the CCS. The brand plays a role in developing such an environment, participating in local events such as catwalks. The local ecosystem is also relevant in terms of exchange, together with traditional fashion circuits and sustainable fashion events. Nevertheless, the production remains mainly located in Asia. The inclusion of sustainability and quality jobs in the selection of providers and producers means that the brand combines different forms of producers, collaborating with some companies spatially embedded in their territories while having a social impact by itself. In terms of distribution, the case draws a transformation of distribution channels, with the growth of digital distribution and the closing of some physical shops, with new business models offering new possibilities for consumption.
An analysis of Magenta Co’s production network has policy implications at different levels. First, the case shows a lack of regulation on sustainable fashion. Certification agencies have become key actors in this sector, granting access to resources and actors as key gatekeepers. They play a role in connecting creation, production and exchange and, to some extent, archiving. Regulation on transparency and information regarding the origins and process of production of raw materials and clothing is key, and a system of indicators is needed regarding the impacts of fashion on the environment. Moreover, the case study shows that policies to foster sustainability in fashion must focus on production and new forms of distribution and consumption. Furthermore, the design can tackle sustainability issues in materials, durability and less variation.
In this regard, the case study also shows the dynamic change in business models in sustainable fashion design, with new approaches in production and distribution linked to innovation in new materials, the efficiency in the use of materials and the management of waste. There are also new business models fostering renting and production on demand. The value of the product is not only linked to its quality but also to its sustainability and branding. The role of digitalisation in this regard is key as it allows for such new distribution models.
At the local and regional levels, the case of Magenta Co shows that bringing value to a fashion design company through sustainability can impact the reindustrialisation and relocalisation of production, and new dynamics linking innovation in fabrics and raw materials, innovation in production processes and design in itself. Sustainability affects the geographical location of the production network in different ways. Network embeddedness is relevant as there are other factors than costs in maintaining the relationships between providers and producers, such as the quality of jobs and environmental principles. Know-how and the capacity to develop designs are also relevant to the network’s participation, bringing certain relocalisation to Europe with fewer environmental costs. Nevertheless, it is limited to places with know-how and local production to adapt to new demands regarding sustainability.
Written by Montserrat Pareja Eastaway, Marc Pradel Miquel and Juan Vidaechea
This blog relates to a case which is part of the report “Production networks in the cultural and creative sector: case studies from fashion design”. This full report can be access here.