Background The aim of this paper is twofold. To begin with, we add to the understanding of how the UK’s fashion industry field operates and how particularities of interactions in this field influence the entrepreneurial performance of new entrants. This builds on previous knowledge concerned with the obstacles to the creation of sustainable production chains. Secondly, we aim to explore the hypothesis that, in the UK, independent fashion design businesses are not growing as effectively as they might be, because they are locked-in in the design-driven, retail-led, London-based networks strongly dominated by links with designers’ former colleges, intermediaries and other institutions to the exclusion of potentially more productive relationships based outside the core of the field, whether elsewhere in the UK or internationally.
Methods In order to understand how the fashion field works, we reviewed existing literature, used data from a previous study of one of the authors, and conducted primary research using case-study techniques directed specifically towards the aims of this paper.
Results Independent apparel designers in London are located at the periphery of the fashion industry field. Independent designers are torn between fashion as 'art' and fashion as 'rag trade' (McRobbie, 1998), and are located in a field where art and creativity carry greater symbolic and cultural value than commerce. This gap is emblematic of the British and London fashion industry as it is currently constituted, and is perpetuated by institutions such as the fashion schools and industry institutions.
Conclusion This performance of small / new fashion designer businesses is hindered by their location at the periphery of the fashion industry field, as well as an ideological position that favours design as art over design as commerce. This position is perpetuated by institutions such as the fashion schools and industry institutions which do not emphasise the craft 'know-how' and production aspects of the fashion design process. Our study confirms the paradox that despite their reputation for innovativeness many of the businesses within the London fashion system seems not able to profit from it.