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Managing production outsourcing risks in China's apparel industry: a case study of two apparel retailers

Booi Hon Kam (School of Management, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)
Ling Chen (School of Management, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)
Richard Wilding (Cranfield School of Management, Cranfield University, Cranfield, UK)

Supply Chain Management

ISSN: 1359-8546

Article publication date: 27 September 2011




This paper aims to examine how Chinese apparel retailers manage their production outsourcing risks and why they elect to manage those risks in a particular manner.


The investigation used the case study approach to explore factors driving two Chinese apparel retailers operating in different market environments to manage their production outsourcing risks.


The selection of production outsourcing risk management strategies hinges on what apparel retailers view as the most important value their products provide to customers. Product values were linked to specific product characteristics as well as the market environment in which the apparel retailers operated. The retailer that regarded product quality as a key value driver was found to place emphasis on manufacturer selection and use of a formal contract for process control. The retailer that viewed newness and variety as a value driver opted to cultivate a strong, committed business relationship based on Guanxi to achieve speed‐to‐market.

Research limitations/implications

As a case study research, the findings of this study have their limitations in generalisability. Given that one of the retailers did not invoke Guanxi to cultivate a long‐term business relationship with its outsourced manufacturers, the role of Guanxi in outsourcing risk management in China deserves further exploration, as businesses in China become more globalised.

Practical implications/value

This study grounds mainstream outsourcing strategy literature on operational practice through case studies. It highlights the influence of both product characteristics and market environment in dictating the choice of outsourcing risk management strategies in apparel manufacturing.


The study views outsourcing risk management from the perspective of minimizing outsourcing failures, rather than achieving outsourcing success. It reveals that risk management behavior of apparel retailers was linked to the notion of value protection, which varied according to what they considered as their principal product value drivers.



Hon Kam, B., Chen, L. and Wilding, R. (2011), "Managing production outsourcing risks in China's apparel industry: a case study of two apparel retailers", Supply Chain Management, Vol. 16 No. 6, pp. 428-445.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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