Fashion, Frugal Futures: how informal micro-businesses design and develop apparel



Fashion, Jewellery & Textile Design


  • apparel product development, frugal innovation, sustainable entrepreneurship, sustainability


The high failure rate of small and micro businesses together with limited information about the operations of informal fashion micro-businesses and necessitated a study about the apparel product design and development process applied by custom-made apparel manufacturing micro enterprises (CMMEs). These micro-enterprises have an important role to play in poverty alleviation in South Africa despite implementing survivalist strategies, and they also provide a sense of self-worth and dignity to people who would otherwise depend on welfare (Grant 2013; Phakathi 2013; Campaniaris et al. 2011). According to Burke (2011), knowledge of design enables creativity and innovation and therefore to prosper, informal CMME owners need to be competent, as well as innovative (SME Reports 2014). Frugal innovation refers to a response to severe resource constraints with ‘good-enough’ products that meet basic needs at a low cost and thus provide high value (Zeschky, Widenmayer & Gassmann 2011). The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how informal fashion micro-businesses apply frugal innovation to design custom-made apparel and improve their futures.

Following a qualitative approach, a multiple case study research design was applied in this study. Thirteen informal CMME owners located at a business incubator in Johannesburg were interviewed using an interview guide. Observations, garment analysis and documents contributed to data collection from participating businesses. The data from interview transcripts and field notes, including photographs, garment analysis and relevant documents from participating CMMEs, was analysed through content analysis.

The study revealed how the participants overcome resource constraints by applying social and cultural capital as tools in the apparel product design and development process. Innovation and creativity were demonstrated by the participating fashion micro-businesses in providing customers with garments that were not available in mainstream clothing retail stores. The study contributed to identifying specific areas for future training to enable the mastery of knowledge and skills. The study further contributes to the body of knowledge about informal enterprises and apparel product design and development in emerging economies.

Keywords: apparel product development, apparel product design, micro business, frugal innovation, sustainable entrepreneurship


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