The U.K. high street fashion industry is a complex business with an estimated 44.5 billion in annual revenues (Barlow, 2006). It includes a wide range of enterprises in the apparel, footwear, home textiles, and accessories markets, full-price and discount retailers, and design source and selling companies. Some have their own manufacturing facilities whilst others outsource production but retain control over parts of the production process.
Dominating the highly-competitive UK fashion market is Marks & Spencer, followed by discount fashion specialist brands such as Primark and TK Maxx, all competing with Burberry, Italy's Prada, Chloe (France), Hugo Boss (Germany), and Donna Karan (U.S.).
Fashion and apparel manufacturing has almost disappeared in the U.K. due to cheap imports from China, which has likewise developed into a manufacturing base for the established global brands. U.K. manufacturing is focused on specialist fashion clothing and luxury products, mostly for wealthy customers in developed countries. The industry is marked by the integration of manufacturers and retailers, with the top three U.K. fashion retailers - M&S, Next, and Arcadia - remaining vertically integrated, producing and retailing their own brands. The other high street fashion brands prefer specialist retailers, outsourcing their production in different countries and sending the finished products to the U.K.
The industry continues to be driven by retailers rather than manufacturers and marked by the growing polarisation between discounters and full-price retailers. The highly competitive nature of the business will continue to intensify. Full-price retailers need to capitalise on young consumer demand for distinctive designs, quality materials, and individual styles sold as "fast fashion" with items offered for a limited time before new styles are released (Doshi, 2006).
The industry's operational requirements have changed in the last twenty years, since the time when high street fashion houses sourced most of their raw materials from U.K. textile manufacturers. These were then transformed by U.K. designers, most with their own production facilities, into wearable apparel or accessories for domestic and export sales. Under this traditional system, high street fashion houses competed on the basis of designs, quality brand image, and productivity and were able to command higher margins.
However, with the rise of global production centres in Asia and Latin America, not only for textiles but also for finished high-quality apparel, most high street fashion houses are being squeezed towards the higher value-added design and brand marketing activities and feeling greater pressure to outsource production and improve operational management efficiencies.
Aside from the growing power of consumers, price discounting pressures, and design copyright problems, the industry faces the following major operations management issues: 1) complexity of the supply chain; 2) speed to product launch and delivery; 3) managing the product mix; 4) inventory control maintenance; and 5) fast-changing technologies.
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