From the end of World War II, British clothing retailers—most notably, Marks & Spencer (M&S)—increasingly dominated the domestic textile industry, to some extent arresting its decline. This article uses financial and archival evidence to examine the distribution of costs and benefits in the M&S vertical network. It shows that these benefits became less tangible for textile firms from around 1985, in the context of lower-cost overseas competition. We chart the visible and invisible evolution of network management, demonstrating that retailer-producer collaboration evolved from a bilateral vertical partnership model to a hybrid version that retained partnerships with leading suppliers and an emphasis on domestic sourcing, but also facilitated offshore production.
Since 1945, staple domestic industries in Western economies have been replaced with global production networks. In the United Kingdom, the cotton textile industry, and then the textile industry in general, declined in the face of increasing overseas competition. Survival strategies were based on restructuring and concentration. During a period of rapid transformation after 1960, cotton was absorbed into vertically structured textile conglomerates. Still, the decline continued, and as protection was phased out, fabric and apparel manufacturing faced similar threats, although rates of decline and strategic response depended on relative position in the vertical production chain. An alternative survival strategy based on vertical partnerships was led by retailers, particularly the dominant clothing retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S).