Sara Öhlin Foto: Linda Karlsson
Sara Öhlin

Fashion and innovation interrelate in multiple and complex ways. With its routinized, cyclical production yet creative context, the fashion industry is sustained by an ongoing tension between stability and change.

As a consequence, innovative activities are performed in everyday work routines. However, in previous research, the dominant view on innovation has mainly been influenced by technological innovations, emphasizing planning, sequencing, and separation among innovation phases and types.

Our understanding of how different innovation types interrelate, how product, process, service, organizational, and stylistic innovations affect one another as they emerge and develop remains limited.

Furthermore, separating innovation types into sequential models does not account for the unintended, improvised, and overlapping activities’ contribution to innovation.

A practice-based approach

In order to address some of these shortcomings, the present study suggests a practice-based approach to understand how innovations emerge as an outcome of mundane activities, involving both planning and improvisation on routines. In such a relational, practice-based view, there are no levels of reality, but the world consists of interrelated practices.

In driving this argument, this study makes use of a corpus of material drawn from a two and a half year long study of practices involved in the making of fashion collections at the main offices of two separate fashion brands, in Stockholm, Sweden.

Designing, producing, and selling

Through interaction observations, interviews and the study of documents, three practices have been identified as relevant to the purpose of this study: Designing, Producing, and Selling. Results indicate that the interrelationships among innovation types are highly dependent on the co-created practice memory and the alignment or misalignment among practices that cut across organizational borders, as well across individual, organizational and industry levels.

The findings also contribute to the practice-based approach on innovation by suggesting a framework of how elements of practices may change (often resulting from practice alignment or misalignment), and how practitioners respond to these changes. Routines, planning, and improvisation constitute three different, though mutually interdependent relationships, that lie at the heart of innovation in the fashion industry.

Read the dissertation in full text here: ”An improvisational, practice-oriented approach to innovation: Examples from the fashion industry”