Supply network configuration for small-series apparel production in high-cost contexts : Opportunities and challenges from selected EU countries

Sammanfattning: In high-cost textile and apparel industry contexts, local and small-series production models (demand-driven/on-demand) are increasingly relevant due to various pressures, including global risks, and demands to reduce overproduction for profitability and environmental sustainability. However, understanding how such reconfigurations impact supply chains more broadly, and what are the associated implementation challenges, is required. Thus, the purpose of this thesis is to explore priorities and challenges impacting location decisions and supply network configuration, and related paradoxes, associated with small-series apparel production in high-cost contexts. This is addressed through mixed-methods and qualitative studies detailed in five appended papers, which focus on interrelated decisions, priorities, challenges, and tensions/paradoxes according to practitioners from diverse companies in several EU countries, with a variety of small-series production models and stages of implementation.  The findings show that different supply network configurations for small-series apparel production share several interrelated design decisions, which are driven by multiple network capability-related priorities (performance goals like quality, delivery speed and reliability, flexibility, environmental sustainability, product/process innovation), and are impacted by similar challenges as manufacturing in high-cost contexts. However, the findings suggest product/process innovation and environmental sustainability are higher priorities, and cost challenges are reduced, with small-series product segments. While several priorities are found to be conflicting when juxtaposed, the findings suggest exposure to goal-related tensions is lessened with high levels of product customization. Although awareness of multiple interwoven tensions related to goals and processes is common among diverse companies in the context (i.e. sensing capabilities), capabilities for tension management and adaptability vary (i.e. seizing and reconfiguring). The lack of other tension types explicitly identified indicates limited awareness. The thesis contributes to theory by addressing the interrelated opportunities of customization and localization on the supply chain and network configuration level, through focus on the apparel industry context. In the process, the research highlights the utility of a combined supply network configuration and paradox theory-based perspective to unify and categorize insights from fragmented extant literature, which can be used to address other complex topics in supply chain and operations management. Future research should build upon preliminary insights regarding the different levels of exposure to interwoven tensions, and capabilities for paradoxical sensemaking and management. Such investigations should explicitly seek to identify latent tensions in supply networks; address whether identified and managed tensions remain paradoxical over time; and analyze outcomes of paradoxical sensemaking and management on performance goals (e.g. cost, flexibility, quality, product and process innovation, environmental and social sustainability, and resilience).  The main contributions to practice are guidance for managers in high-cost textile and apparel-like industry contexts, with analysis of existing and future network configurations for small-series production implementation/scaling, and paradoxical sensemaking. The findings suggest managers should expand upon current levels of awareness to understand latent tensions, like the learning tensions that were revealed within several response strategies. Managers should be aware that local production is often a driver of tensions in high-cost contexts, rather than being included among multidimensional tension management strategies; whereas customization has the potential to reduce exposure to goal-related tensions. To respond to various tensions, managers can leverage/develop internal and external resources focused on both product and operations design. To respond to process tensions impacting customization, enhanced and reduced levels of product and process development can be balanced.