Lead project

Platform Ecology: Creative Collaboration in the Field of Tension between Virtual and Concrete Spaces in the Case of Fashion Design

Research department: Economy and Civil Society

IRS Research Topic: Shared Knowledge - Locally and Over Distance Research on Innovation Processes

Project Leader within IRS: Prof. Dr. Oliver Ibert

Project Team: Alica Repenning Prof. Dr. Suntje Schmidt Anna Oechslen

Duration: 01/2019 - 12/2021


The lead project focalizes digital online platforms as well as their relevance for design processes in the fashion industry. Thus, it addresses the question, to what extent creative collaboration can be digitalized. More and more relations of exchange and interaction – professional as well as private – are mediated by digital platforms, which in turn are diversifying and specializing. All platforms have in common that they enact specific interfaces between the "concrete" and the "virtual" world, at which human actions are translated into data and vice versa. Furthermore, each platform business model is grounded in expectations about social action which are reinforced in a "performative" way by platform-based intermediation. In economic geography debates about the "platform economy", the tension between, on the one hand, platforms’ potential to foster openness, participation and collaboration over distance, and, on the other hand, the pronounced tendency of platform companies to cluster and form monopolies, is emphasized.

The lead project analyses how different specialized digital platforms are used in design processes, and which spatial patters and divisions of labour in creative work emerge as a consequence. It is grounded in the idea of ‘platform ecologies’. This concept denotes platforms’ embeddedness in a system of virtual and concrete relationships of interaction which is specific to a social context – for instance an economic sector. By taking into view creative processes such as the design of fashion products, the project investigates the specific contributions of various types of platforms – e.g. for crowdfunding/-sourcing, design collaboration or production services – in different phases of creative and aesthetic value creation. Many qualities relevant to a product’s value appeal in fashion, such as materials’ touch and feel as well as standards of workmanship, are difficult to transmit digitally. In addition, fashion can draw on a long-standing system of creative collaboration over distance based on formats of temporary co-presence. The advance of digital platforms into a formerly more analogue industry like fashion bears the potential to fundamentally change spatial arrangements of creativity-based value creation, to the benefit or at the expense of established creative centres.

The first complex of questions addressed in the lead project refers to the structure of the fashion industry’s platform ecology: Which platforms do exist and how can they be characterized in terms of function, business model, interface design, users and locational patterns? Which (new) spatial forms of organizations and divisions of labour do they enact? The second complex of questions refers to processes: How are platforms used in design processes, what are their respective contributions and how do digitally mediated and non-digital practices relate to each other? When do actors prefer virtual exchange and when do they favour co-presence? The subjects of study will be empirically investigated using a combination of online research, qualitative expert and participant interviews as well as ethnographic elements.

Photos: rh2010/stock.adobe.com; bonninturina/stock.adobe.com; .shock/stock.adobe.com; diego cervo/stock.adobe.com

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Ibert, O., Oechslen, A., Repenning, A., & Schmidt, S. (2022). Platform Ecology: A User-centric and Relational Conceptualization of Online Platforms. Global Networks, 22(3), 564-579. https://doi.org/10.1111/glob.12355
Oechslen, A. (2020). Grenzenlose Arbeit? Eine Exploration der Arbeitskulturen von Crowdwork. In D. Eckhardt, S. May, M. Röthl, & R. Tischberger (Eds.), Digitale Arbeitskulturen: Rahmungen, Effekte, Herausforderungen (pp. 83-94). (Berliner Blätter; Vol. 82).. https://doi.org/10.18452/22135
Ibert, O., Oechslen, A., Repenning, A., & Schmidt, S. (2022, Mar 14). Geht regional auch digital? Handlungsansätze zur Gestaltung von regionalen digitalen Plattformen. Leibniz-Institut für Raumbezogene Sozialforschung. http://hdl.handle.net/10419/251348
Repenning, A., & Oechslen, A. (2023). Creative Digipreneurs: Artistic Entrepreneurial Practices in Platform-Mediated Space. Digital Geography and Society, 4, [100058]. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.diggeo.2023.100058