Fashion social enterprises, the industry changers?

Fashion social enterprises studied as part of the alternative development framework can be distinguished for being pushed from the grassroots, people-centred and motivated, and locally focused. On one hand, as a response to the economic and environmental situation, people have tried to develop business to achieve sustainability and ethical practices in the industry ( Homer-Dixon, 2006: 11-4; Berkhout et al., 2010: 261; Fletcher et Grose, 2012: 16). This has been done mostly through a talent-led way, where the entrepreneur is supported and highlighted in a more US-way of understanding social entrepreneurship (Nicholls et Hyunbae , 2006; Defourney et Nyssens, 2010; McRobbie, 2013). Being self-led and promoted, a new balance of power and new structure have appeared where markets, states and society co-works in a different way (Nederveen, 2002). Thus, in a more close approach to alternative development, there is been a new democracy where people have more power and human centred development (Foucault,1997; Nederveen, 2002; Fletcher, 2014). However, this has only created a number of cases with microecosystem impact (Quak, 2013). Although the grassroots and people-centre change, what is needed now is a focus on institutionalisation of the industry (Foylle et Matlay, 2010; D’Ovidio et Parcel, 2012). This will assure new talents to come, new possibilities to scale, and to secure new business to grow and depend less on external finance (Bilton, 2007). To achieve this fashion social entrepreneurs should concentrate on being institutional entrepreneurs to create the infrastructure and analyse or create new institutions to develop the fashion social sector. For this, instead on creating new financial and governmental support for new talents, the focus from policy-makers and intermediaries should be on supporting and creating hubs, incubators and other platforms to create social capital and networks to boost newcomers and paths for business. Besides the government and financial support, especially third sector organisations can develop more this area to create communities and networks to boost the sector.


On the other hand, fashion social enterprises have the peculiarity of enhancing local economy (McRobbie, 2013). Government has supported this, since it is a way to boost economy and to promote the cities especially for the culture and creativity generated (D’Ovidio et Parcel, 2012; Fletcher et Grose, 2012: 108; Fletcher, 2014: 168). Still, since it is not about having good cases but to change the whole industry into a sustainable one, fashion social enterprises should understand their role to transform and influence the sector (Fletcher, 2014). For this, new business models and roles have to be adapted. Also, cultural intermediaries such as journalists, fashion weeks platforms, buyers, models, among others, have an important part in this. First, media has to start supporting local and new talents (McRobbie, 2013), and at the same time stop stereotyping sustainability (Fletcher, 2014). Designers and other actors of the industry can get involved to change the way it is been defined, not only in the media but also in the policy-making. Truth is that there are not proper lobbyist for fashion social enterprises and sustainability, then mainly practitioners have to focus on getting together, grow or participate more in media and other spaces to define better sustainability in the public awareness and policy-making processes (Davison, 2016; Tranchell, 2016). Also, financial and governmental support have to focus on supporting this enterprises through taxes compensations and investment (D’Ovidio et Parcel, 2012; Quak, 2013). However, to achieve this, fashion social enterprises should also focus on the innovation of their business models to scale, receive support and change the whole industry (Fletcher, 2010; Fletcher, 2014; Kant Hvass, 2015, Molderez et Van Elst, 2015; Morgan, 2015). This changes implies introducing new services and products in the business like second-hand retail or new practices like cooperation and transparency. Moreover, to accomplish this changes, mainly designers but also all those related in the industry should understand that their new roles are not limited only to their job profile but now it is also into business innovation, policy-making, activism, et cetera (Fletcher et Grose, 2012; Fletcher, 2014).

Thus, a bigger impact and influence can be done through the whole industry towards the pursuit of sustainability.


This post is part of an original essay about fashion social enterprises and the factors related to them in order to sustain and develop the sector and new enterprises within it. It was written for internal objectives for ICCE department of Goldsmiths College, University of London. If you want to read the whole essay or just debate the topic -which will be great-, please contact me at




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Nicholls, A., et Hyunbae, A. (2006). “Social Entrepreneurship: The Structuration of a Field”. In Nicholls, Alex (editor). (2006). Social Entrepreneurship: New Models of Sustainable Social Change. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pp. 99-118

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