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Supply network structures in the international clothing industry: differences across retailer types

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Purpose ‐ The study seeks to classify retailer-driven clothing supply networks to provide new insights on their structure and operation and examine whether or not differences are evident in the types of networks operated by different types of retailer. Design/methodology/approach ‐ A large-scale empirical investigation is conducted of 73 supply networks operating with 26 Sri Lankan apparel manufacturers, representing 39 major retailers. In-depth interviews and survey methods are used, representing qualitative and quantitative approaches, respectively. Findings ‐ Six primary types of clothing supply network are identified. A strong association is shown between retailer type and network type, specifically for networks operated by established brand retailers and by value players such as supermarket retailers. The typical attributes of the supply networks of each type of retailer are compared. Research limitations/implications ‐ Although the empirical study is large, it is limited to supply networks with prime manufacturing partners located in Sri Lanka. The country is important in global clothing production, serving many prominent global retailers. Studying and comparing supply networks anchored in other regions will provide a valuable comparison with the findings here. Practical implications ‐ The study has implications for clothing retailers in analyzing, managing and developing their networks. For manufacturers, it provides insights to understand the network structures operated by different types of retailer for different classes of garment. The study also offers insights for policy makers in clothing producing regions. Originality/value ‐ A new empirically based classification is presented for clothing supply networks. The diversity in network types has not previously been shown. The comparison of networks of established brand retailers and value players provides empirical evidence of differences not reported previously. The findings enrich both the theoretical and empirical bases for sector-specific supply network studies.
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Keywords: Clothing; Retail; Supply chain management; Supply networks

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 14, 2013

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