Strategic design: The emergence of strategy within the volatile terrains of designer fashion firms

Ethan Cooper & Kristian S. Ottesen

Student thesis: Master thesis


Following an interpretative case study approach of enquiry, this Thesis examines four Danish designer fashion firms situated within a volatile local industry that has seen 25% of fashion design firms diminish over the previous year (2009). In times of volatility it has been argued that there is a need for flexible and explorative organizational solutions in order to adapt to disruptive ecological changes. However, due to the impact of uncertainty and time and space there is a move toward more exploitative paths during times of volatility (March 1991, Brown and Eisenhardt 1998). Through conducting semi-structured interviews with actors within the four case companies and linking theories of sensemaking, strategy and exploration and exploitation (within organizational learning) the following research question was formulated and addressed: How do strategies of exploration and exploitation emerge within the enacted environments of Danish fashion design companies during times of organizational volatility? By taking an interpretative approach in our Thesis we were able to discuss how strategies of exploration and exploitation emerged through the action and translation processes of strategic actors within the case companies. Taking the stance that environments are not objective, rather they are socially constructed through interaction (Schmirch & Stubbart, 1985), we observed how organizational environments were constructed along with strategic opportunities and constraints. By conducting a comparative analysis we were able to further highlight the active role of identity in sensemaking (Weick et al. 2005) and how it guided companies to explore and exploit in differing ways. This analysis also developed our practical aim by exemplifying that there can be opportunities to test, negotiate and demolish enacted constraints. Through our research we observed that rather than isomorphic responses to uncertainty, the companies demonstrated variance; which was maintained predominantly through the differences in the constructed environments, identities and goals of the companies. Contrasting the assumption that isomorphism (within Neo-institutional Theory) makes of unilateral pressures of adaptation on organizations we observed mutual adaptation processes through explorative strategies. This observation supported our argument that environmental adaptation was more a derivative of enactment than a strategic fiat

EducationsMSc in Strategy, Organization and Leadership, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2010
Number of pages135