“A closet in the cloud”: Exploring the rise of fashion sharing platforms
IRS Seminar with Dr. Taylor Brydges, Stockholm University
The platform economy has disrupted a number of established industries, from automotive to accommodation. A variety of terms are used to refer to the platform economy, including the sharing economy, the collaborative economy, the on-demand economy, and the gig economy. In our research, we prefer the term platform economy because most transactions within this digital realm are far removed from an idealized vision of peer-to-peer sharing, represented by services such as Wikipedia or Napster. There are a variety of types of platforms, including platforms that transform the delivery of traditional services (such as Airbnb and Uber), platforms that act as financial intermediaries (such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo), platforms that mediate work (such as TaskRabbit and Amazon Mechanical Turk), and platforms that serve as virtual retail marketplaces (such as Amazon and Etsy).
Debates regarding the platform economy are highly polarized. Broadly speaking, on the one hand, as ownership is replaced with access, the platform economy offers the potential for more efficient sustainable modes of consumption, as well as new forms of entrepreneurship and innovative business models. On the other, the platform economy may be leading to a further concentration of wealth and power, with the risk of stifling entrepreneurship and contributing to new forms of precarious employment. The platform economy is thus associated with diverse impacts, and there are concerns related to privacy and surveillance, labour exploitation, ownership, and profitability, as well as the (un)ethical conduct of dominant firms.
Despite a growing body of literature on the platform economy, one industry has been largely overlooked: the fashion industry. A number of commentators suggest that the fashion industry is the next sector to be affected by the platform economy, creating a new wave of creative destruction within an already volatile industry. Indeed, the largest fashion rental platform, Rent the Runway, has already achieved a $1 billion USD valuation. In particular, we understand the rise of fashion sharing platforms in the context of a growing movement against fast fashion and the growing sustainability crisis in the fashion industry. And yet, we know little empirically about the entrepreneurs starting these platforms, their models of operation, and the emerging geography of these platforms. We are also unsure how much of a challenge they actually pose to the incumbent structures of fast fashion, as this sector continues to grow.
To fill this gap, this presentation will draw upon two empirical data sets: first, a mapping of international fashion sharing platforms, and second, an in-depth case study of fashion sharing platforms in Canada. Here, we examine where when fashion sharing firms emerged, as well as the different business models underpinning the growth of these firms, and the motivations for offering and buying these services are also analyzed. This research is embedded in a broader project investigating alternative fashion retail models in Canada, including slow-fashion and secondhand retailers.
Through these cases, this presentation will investigate the tensions and contradictions inherent in the platform economy, and the implications for entrepreneurship and innovation more broadly.
Ultimately it will be argued that in the case of fashion, despite the power and potential of sharing economy platforms to disrupt established businesses, incumbent regimes remain resilient. Indeed, whilst there are signs of a new wave of creative destruction in the fashion industry, it is not yet clear that this new wave will indeed impact on the profitability and dominance of the “business as usual” in the fashion industry.
This paper has been co-authored with Rhiannon Pugh (Orebro University) and Deborah Leslie (University of Toronto).
Taylor Brydges is a Postdoc Researcher at Stockholm University and the University of Zurich. Her research explores economic competitiveness, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the cultural and creative industries. A dominant theme in her research relates to exploring the contemporary nature of work in the creative economy, and the impact of digital technologies on patterns and spaces of labour & entrepreneurship. Currently, she is investigating sustainability and the circular economy, with a focus on the fashion industry, through a research project funded by the Swedish Research Council (VR).