The paper uses the global value chain framework to explain the
transformations in production, trade and corporate strategies that altered the
apparel industry over the past decades and changed the conditions for
innovation and learning in the industry. The apparel industry is identified as a
buyer-driven value chain that contains three types of lead firms: retailers,
marketers and branded manufacturers. With the globalization of apparel
production, competition between the leading firms in the industry has
intensified as each type of lead firm has developed extensive global sourcing
capabilities. While “de-verticalizing” out of production, these firms are
fortifying their activities in the high value-added design and marketing
segments of the apparel chain, leading to a blurring of the boundaries
between them and a realignment of interests within the chain.
Innovation in the global apparel value chain is primarily associated with the
shift from assembly to full-package production. Full-package production
changes fundamentally the relationship between buyer and supplier giving
more autonomy to the supplying firm and creating more possibilities for
innovation and learning.
The paper distinguishes between three new models of competition in the
North American market namely the East Asian, Mexican and Caribbean
Basin model. Each model presents different perspectives and challenges for
industrial innovation and learning.