The aim of this paper is twofold. First, we add to the understanding of how the fashion industry's field operates and how particularities of interactions in this field influence the entrepreneurial performance of new entrants. Part of this is to add to the previous knowledge on the obstacles to the creation of sustainable production chains. Second, 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 (Wenting and Frenken, 2011) in the design-driven, retail-led, London-based networks dominated by strong links with their 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.
Our research addresses the need to reverse the high failure rate of designer businesses (TCSG, 2000). There is a need to find ways of accelerating entrepreneurship and economic development in the fashion industry.
Fashion is a creative and cultural industry and is an important source of innovation, knowledge creation, and economic growth. Fashion is typical of important world city-regions: Paris, New York, London, Milan, Tokyo, and is one of the UK’s most successful industries, with 8% of GDP (£21bn) and over 800,000 employees (BFC, 2012, 2010, 2009). It enhances the country’s image and boosts economic growth via exports and on-line sales as well as through direct sales to visitors. The UK can claim world-leading capabilities in both fashion design and retailing (BFC, 2012).
The high-end fashion sector sees between an estimated 20 and 50 new UK designer/wholesale labels looking to break into the market each year. Some designers have achieved £2 million p.a. turnover within four years of their label's launch. However, this high growth is achieved by only 10% of labels (DCMS, 2013). Some commentators acknowledge the disparity between the international visibility of fashion industry and the economic returns (McRobbie, 1998) and raise the question: Why do so many of the most talented designers go bankrupt within a few years of leaving college?