Rethinking Fashion Retail Innovation: Marketplace, Marketspace & the Non-Market

Jean Béraud. (1877) The Church of Saint-Philippe-du-Roule, Paris.
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Each member of the MAIM Class of 2016 proposes their perspectives on innovation management in the lead up to their Degree Show “Through the Kaleidoscope: Perspectives on Innovation Management”. In this post, Ian Cho, shares his perspective on managing fashion retail innovation.


“A recent invention of industrial luxury, are glass-roofed, marble-paneled corridors extending through whole blocks of buildings, whose owners have joined together for such enterprises. Lining both sides of these corridors, which get their light from above, are the most elegant shops, so that the arcade is a city, a world in miniature.” (Illustrated Guide to Paris, 1852, cited in Benjamin, 1939, translated by Eiland & McLaughlin, 1999, p. 31)

From Technological to Social


Throughout the past decade, the fashion retail industry has been a laboratory for technological innovation. From interactive screens to virtual fitting rooms, many fashion retailers competitively introduced digital technology into their physical and online stores. Unfortunately, most of these experiments did not succeed because the focus of these innovations was limited to the technology itself. Even if we say that fashion retailers have learned something from their failures, it was mostly about the technical specifications and limitations of a digital technology.

So, how can fashion retailers rethink fashion retail innovation? This requires a step back to remember that fashion and retail are both social phenomena (Kawamura, 2005). We must view fashion retail as a complex social network constituted of customers in marketplaces, marketspaces and non-markets. By looking at customers in-store, online and outside the boundaries of fashion retail, innovation managers could make new connections that opens up to new opportunities for retail innovation  A shift of perspective to embrace complexity allows fashion retailers to gain insights from customers and develop it into strategic opportunities.


Reassembling Fashion Retail

This is not new thinking. In the early twentieth century, a German philosopher, Walter Benjamin strolled through the arcades (or ‘passages’ in French) of Paris. The wanderer started collecting scraps of writings as well as illustrations on clothing, stores, sales clerks, display windows, interiors, lightings, railways, advertisements, prostitution, gambling, boredom, idleness, barricade battles, conspiracies and social movements. Even if, his obsessive accumulation of things seemed pointless to many people, his objective was in fact to reassemble the bustling marketplace of a century ago.


Through this systematic research, Walter Benjamin studied the social interactions of the of the past to understand how the foundation of modern day fashion retail has emerged. This is an unfinished project carried out over the course of thirteen years (1927- 1940). In essence, fashion retail has not changed much since then. So, fashion retailers must remember that the social exploration by a postmodern ‘flâneur’ (or wanderer) is a key methodology for them to consider implementing within their practices in order to manage innovation within fashion retail.


Embracing Complexity


In conclusion, today’s fashion retail innovation is a complex system that needs to be dealt with holistically. Therefore, customers within the system need to be looked at from multiple angles. For customers, the distinction between physical and online store is vanishing, turning the world into a showroom without walls. This complexity raises the need for a holistic perspective  in the customer behaviour research in fashion retail. ‘Innovation’ within a complex network of customers, stores and technology and fashion retailers is necessary of  innovation managers who can think holistically, perform in-depth customer research and develop strategic opportunities by pushing the boundaries.


Fashion retail opens plenty of opportunity for innovation and innovation management, however, fashion retailers need to understand that fashion retail innovation lies within a complex society, the marketplace, marketspace and non-market.


Stay tuned for the upcoming MAIM 2016 Degree Show, taking place at Central Saint Martins from 22 to 26 June 2016.


*Kawamura, Y. (2005) Fashion-ology: An Introduction to Fashion Studies. Oxford: Berg.
*Benjamin, W. (1939) The Arcades Project. Translated by Eiland, H. & McLaughlin, K. (1999) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.