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The Coevolution of New Organizational Forms in the Fashion Industry: A Historical and Comparative Study of France, Italy, and the United States

Abstract : In many industries, the contemporary context of acute environmental dislocation shows the limits of traditional organizational recipes. In direct response to environmental challenges, companies are experimenting with new organizational solutions. While flexibility, or the capacity to redefine organizational form to follow changing purposes, is undeniably a common trend, these experiments otherwise differ greatly. Diversity is such, in fact, that it is difficult to clearly identify and define a unique organizational paradigm for the future. To explore the connection between environmental dislocation and organizational transformations, we adopt a historical and comparative perspective. Our empirical base of evidence is the luxury fashion industry in three countries, France, Italy, and the United States. For many years, this industry was defined by stable environmental conditions, and a craft model of organization remained dominant. We show that, over a more recent period, increasing environmental turbulence has brought about a redefinition of the rules of the game. A common response has been for organizations to move towards greater flexibility or modularity and to experiment with network forms. However, we also show that the paths or trajectories leading to organizational flexibility have varied significantly across countries, reflecting historical legacies and institutional constraints. We identify in fact three different network forms in that industry, which represent national ideal types-the "umbrella holding" company in France, the "flexible embedded network" in Italy, and the "virtual organization" in the United States. We argue that the process of change in the luxury fashion industry has been one of coevolution, where environmental transformation and organizational change have fed upon each other through time. Pioneer firms in the luxury fashion industry originally devised organizational solutions within the bounds set by nationally defined constraints and opportunities. Becoming institutionalized, these early solutions in turn shaped the environment for individual organizations and organizational populations, creating new sets of opportunities and constraints. In a pathdependent manner, different models of organization and national competitiveness thus emerged. In conclusion, we are brought to question the likelihood of full and stable convergence towards a unique organizational form or paradigm. There appears to be, in each national context, a process of construction of new organizational solutions that starts from local foundations. Embedded as they are in powerful historical and institutional legacies, organizational differences are there to stay, we believe, beyond the period of transition and acute environmental dislocation. [First paragraph]
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Marie-Laure Salles-Djelic, Antti Ainamo. The Coevolution of New Organizational Forms in the Fashion Industry: A Historical and Comparative Study of France, Italy, and the United States. Organization Science, 1999, 10 (5), pp.622 - 637. ⟨hal-01892019⟩

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