Local high street labels are upping the style stakes to give international rivals a run for their money, writes Candy Soo
There was a time when local fashionistas would never have thought of shopping at Giordano, instead making a beeline for international high street stores such as H&M and Zara for stylish and affordable clothes.
However, in the past year homegrown fashion chains have fought back with clothing that's just as hip and kind to the pocket.
Brands such as G2000 and Izzue used to bring to mind images of staid office-wear and boring basics sold in nondescript environments. But new store decor, talented fashion designers and fresh advertising campaigns have helped to vamp up the image of local high street brands.
There have always been a few local high street chains pushing the style envelope, such as Fashion Community Kitterick; now, the big labels are finally catching up.
'In the past, our design focus was mainly based on functionality and past consumer preferences,' says Lauren Tien Tsak-yen, G2000's product director. 'Now, we're getting out of that and going for trend and fashion. The fashion landscape has changed quite a bit over the past few years and it's imperative that local brands step up to meet the challenge of increasingly 'fast' fashion at competitive quality and price levels,' she says.
Ken Ng Ka-hung, Giordano Concepts' marketing director, advocates a similar goal for his label. 'In the old days, local brands tended to focus on mass demand and therefore supplied the public with basic styles at a low price in the hopes of securing higher sales,' he says. 'However, our goal now is to supply tasteful fashion that appeals to the sophisticated and upmarket customer who is looking for originality, individuality and flair at an affordable price.'
The biggest task for most of these brands is erasing buyers' preconceptions about their clothing. At the same time, the local shopper has become more discerning and aware of international fashion trends, so the stores have to stock clothing that reflects them.
'The Hong Kong shopper is very savvy these days,' says Tien. 'They know what [trend] suits them and what doesn't. That's why we're always mindful of how we interpret catwalk trends here, so that the end-product is easy to wear.'
A big part of the rebranding process is the revamped advertising campaigns that can rival those of international brands. Izzue, for one, has chosen to use Japanese celebrities in its ads and recently featured Shayne Ward, winner of Britain's talent show The X-Factor, in a campaign for a non-seasonal collection. G2000, on the other hand, has invested in supermodels such as Coco Rocha, Karolina Kurkova, Daria Werbowy and Jacquetta Wheeler to front its advertising campaigns.
To further reinforce this new image, the stores have undergone a facelift. Giordano Concepts, Giordano's cooler line, plans new flagship stores in Hong Kong and on the mainland to reflect the contemporary, easy-going style that it's cultivating. Izzue continues to place an emphasis on the decor of its stores in order to project the desired image.
'Unlike stores such as H&M, which we would consider a fashion supermarket, we think it's more important to convey that our fashion is a lifestyle that's tailor-made for a certain niche in the market,' says a spokesperson for Izzue. 'We work hard to uphold the image of that lifestyle through concept stores that reflect our style values.'
Another local brand, Initial, has taken the retail concept one step further, with plans to open a multi-brand boutique that will carry a host of contemporary clothing lines from around the world. It's a clear indication that local brands are beginning to have the confidence to compete with foreign counterparts on a level playing field.
The risk with cultivating a new image is that it may alienate the brand's core customers. Although they're keeping their main lines affordable, many have tackled this problem by developing diffusion lines with higher price points to cater for customers looking for more classic designs. For instance, G2000 has recently launched a premium line named G2 Black Label, which is made with higher quality fabrics and workmanship.
Giordano, the parent company behind Giordano Concepts, simultaneously runs the Giordano Ladies chain, which caters to a more sophisticated and mature clientele.
Izzue, meanwhile, hopes to lure the chic and urbane customer with the launch of its more expensive line, Izzue Collection, featuring luxurious silhouettes and fabrics.
'Although we do take global trend elements into consideration, it's important that we also reinvent them into something that is very 'Izzue' so as not to alienate our loyal customers,' says Izzue's spokesperson. 'It's important for us to strike a balance between edginess, wearability and quality, while keeping our pieces affordable.'
A natural concern for many customers is that affordable prices could mean lacklustre quality, but this is where the homegrown brands say they have the upper hand over international competitors.
'Unlike many of the fast-fashion mega-brands out there, we refuse to compromise on quality for a quicker turnover of styles,' says Tien.
Local stylist Denise Hong, for instance, prefers homegrown labels. 'I love Giordano Ladies and I think the quality is better than H&M,' she says. 'The designs are classic with a twist, so they're still cool without being too trendy. And they last for season after season - unlike H&M, which falls apart after a few washes.'
Besides better quality, Tien says local labels have another advantage over their international rivals. 'There are certain trends that'll never take off in Hong Kong and certain colours or silhouettes that are just unflattering to the Asian physique and we know our customers enough to not have these in our lines,' she says.