Fashion Design Practices and Emerging Transformations: A Case of Interdependence Between Fashion Creative Processes and Manufacturing System in the Made in Italy Districts
Chiara Colombi, Design department | Politecnico di Milano
Gabriele Goretti, School of Design | Jiangnan University
The current turbulence in the economy and industries globally, which is both dynamic and complex, is sharpening and exacerbating challenges that the contemporary fashion industry — as a network of interrelated stakeholders including brands and designers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and consumers — has been facing in the last two decades. Geopolitical risks, such as political instability, conflicts, trade wars, and protectionist policies, are creating challenges for businesses that operate in affected regions or rely on global trade and on imported goods or services. The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a profound impact on the global economy, causing significant disruptions to supply chains, reducing consumer spending, and leading to job losses and business closures (McKibbin & Fernando, 2020). Lockdowns and border closures disrupted the movement of goods and labour, leading to delays in production and delivery, and causing a backlog of inventory. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has created significant uncertainty and volatility in the fashion industry, worsening the existing vulnerability and leading to its disruptions. In addition, the pandemic led to a shift in consumer preferences and buying patterns, with a decrease in demand for specific merchandise categories, such as formalwear and outerwear, and an increased attention and desire for casual wear and athleisure (McKinsey & Company, 2021). These new consumption behaviours have pushed the evolution of a new concept of occasion of use toward a faster and further blurring among product categories, thus requiring a new design and planning approach to fashion collections. This shift in demand caught fashion companies unprepared and highlighted the inflexibility of their supply chains even more. The need for greater adaptability and resilience of the fashion supply chains is also exacerbated in light of the digital acceleration affecting all sectors, not only in support of the shift to phygital retail but also in favour of improvements to interoperability, higher traceability, and transparency across manufacturing, logistics, and distribution (Casciani et al., 2022).While traditional fashion companies are dramatically lagging behind in the process of digital transition at operational and managerial levels, the request by consumers for transparency relates not only to the concept of environmental and economic sustainability but it refers also to an emerging social and civic consciousness under the increasing demand for responsible practices and products. The social dimension of innovation (Penati, 1999; Pinch, 2005; Bucchi, 2010), embedded into a sustainable development, moves from a simplistic technology-driven concept in favour of design-driven approach, focusing on the construction of meanings (Krippendorff, 1989, 1990, 2006; Norman & Verganti, 2014; Bertola et al., 2018) in processes and products and on the centrality of the role of human beings.This reflects in the consideration that the fashion industry does not simply correspond to its supply chain, but it refers to a creative and cultural industry where tangible and intangible products and specific modes of production concur to covey cultural and symbolic meanings that are significant for consumers and that correlate with the value of a company (Bertola et al., 2016).Within this framework, the principles of the New European Bauhaus (European Commission, 2021) — aesthetics responding to needs and improving quality of experience beyond functionality, environmental sustainability, and inclusion –, empowered by digital transition but also integrated by a holistic approach to sustainability (Hawkes, 2001; UCLG, 2010), characterizes the contemporary arena in which the fashion industry restructures towards hybrid value chains where brands, supply chains, and consumers enter new relationships while redefining processes, products, and services (Bertola et al., 2018). In this context, the management of the fashion creative processes, harnessing the adoption of digital technologies, is of the utmost importance in order to empower a positive transition towards efficient and sustainable productions and responsible cultural and consumption dynamics.
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