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Published March 13, 2023 | Version 1.0
Project deliverable Open

Production networks in the cultural and creative sector: case studies from fashion design

  • 1. University Milano-Bicocca
  • 2. University of Bari
  • 3. University of Barcelona


The CICERONE project consists of seven work packages (WPs). This report is part of WP2, which constitutes the empirical backbone of CICERONE. It contains case study research that focuses on networked production in eight cultural and creative industries: 1) architecture, 2) archives (including libraries and cultural heritage), 3) artistic crafts, 4) audio-visual media (film, TV, videogames, multimedia) and radio, 5) design, 6) festivals, as well as performing and visual arts, 7) music and, 8) publishing.  The purpose of the case study research is to understand key linkages and mechanisms in real-life CCS production networks and their relationships to context-dependent variables. Drawing on the case study research, the CICERONE project explores policies that may contribute to enhancing the impact of the cultural and creative sectors on competitiveness, cultural diversity and environmental sustainability. It also explores how to support post-Covid recovery of the sector itself. Furthermore, the case study research facilitates the identification of gaps in extant sources of quantitative data, suggesting approaches on how these can be plugged. For this reason, WP2 is not just the empirical backbone of CICERONE, it also provides critical inputs for the work in other WPs (most notably WP4 and WP6).

This deliverable (D2.5) reports on the case studies on the publishing industry. Together with the reports D2.1 to D2.4, D2.6 and D2.7, it provides strategic snapshots of the rich and variegated tapestry of European production networks in cultural and creative industries.

This report aims to discuss the fashion industry as part of the design industry, looking beyond a single organisation and offering a complex picture of the whole network where different steps are needed in creating fashion goods. This novel approach considers all the elements implicated in the composite process of fashion, encompassing the realm of identity, behaviour and experiences, involving creativity, industrial processes, marketisation and distribution. The report does not focus on the fashion industry as a whole but on fashion design, the part of the industry where design plays a key role throughout the production network. Fashion design is a sub-field of the design industry where we find large vertically integrated companies and specialised small- and medium-sized organisations. Therefore, the complexity of the high degree of variation in terms of products, high-end or mass production and integrated or outsourced services demands an exploration in the analysis of this sector’s production cycle.

The first part of the report provides an overview of the industry and a statistical analysis of employees and companies throughout the different phases. The industry has four main features. First, the industry’s primary feature is its product segmentation and variation. Understanding the current dynamics of the fashion design network inevitably involves its connection with the fashion industry in its different segments. This industry includes a wide variety of products, including clothing, accessories, jewellery and leather goods. As differentiation is a key element of fashion design, we find strong segmentation in production, which could be sorted into different categories.

Second, the industry is strongly embedded in certain places while simultaneously producing and distributing globally. Although fashion design has lately grown in presence in many other parts of the world, particularly after World War II, its origins are intrinsically connected with Europe. Fashion design was born in Europe and remains a segment of the fashion industry geographically concentrated in the region, providing specific economic, cultural and social factors and dynamics that still favour the industry concentration in this continent. Embeddedness affects the whole global production network of fashion design in its different phases. Brands are embedded in their locations, nurturing creativity and design activities through a vibrant local ecosystem. Producers are often also embedded in long trajectories of production and know-how in their territories, although we can also find companies intensive in technology that can adapt to demands and are less dependent on territorial traditions in production.
Third, fashion design generates different forms of labour relations based on employee involvement in different phases. There are two distinct types of labour within the fashion global production network: in Hatch’s (2014) words, design-led manufacturing is characterised by synthetic (industrial production) and symbolic (design) labour. Within the former, labour relations are more stable and practice-oriented, while the latter is more shaped by a rapid turnover and mobility of workers between firms and projects. Thus, while synthetic knowledge is context-specific and occurs primarily between spatially collocated partners, the symbolic value (i.e. aesthetic character) is embedded in a work that belongs to the project-based ecology contended of the creative process (Hatch, 2014). Based on this main division is how we understand the different types of labour that comprise the global production chain of the fashion industry.

Finally, regarding policy, the fashion design industry stands out from other creative industries (CIs) analysed in this project for two reasons. First, it immerses itself in a wider chain involving the clothing industry, one with characteristics regarding tariffs and the concentration of players that shape the trade patterns of fashion companies. Thus, the treatment of fashion goods by the World Trade Organisation (WTO; which considers clothing as a position in itself) is different from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), whose Creative Economy Outlook report leaves behind fashion products and only includes fashion design in a wider category that also adds furniture, jewellery and architecture. Secondly, fashion design is a global CI that produces a huge variety of creative goods in a context without strong intellectual property (IP) laws protection, unlike most other CIs.
The second part of the report analyses three case studies to understand fashion design. To analyse the diversity within existing governance models, we selected three collections: a) a collection of haute couture of a high-end brand, b) a collection from a sustainable fashion brand and c) the first collection developed by emergent designers. The analysis of these three cases is useful to show the strong role of embeddedness in creation, dependent on creative ecosystems and the strong links between creation and production. Nevertheless, production is often delocalised and is developed partially in Asia. Large brands can develop more power over the whole production network, but it is limited to medium-sized and emerging companies, which must negotiate with producers and distributors. Thus, its capacity to influence the network is weaker. The three cases also show that digitalisation and sustainability are two key challenges for the industry, as both elements affect production and the whole process (including creation, distribution, exchange and archiving).


D2.5 Production networks in the CCS. Case studies from the fashion design industry.pdf

Additional details


CICERONE – Creative Industries Cultural Economy Production Network 822778
European Commission