How young Chinese fashion investor Wendy Yu is boosting British brands with insight on China’s millennials
Her father owns a door manufacturing empire but Wendy Yu has become an astute investor in fashion platforms, a sought-after adviser for designers doing business in China, and is now gearing up for big things with Mary Katrantzou
She is often seen sitting in the front row at London or Paris Fashion Week with a quirky handbag on her lap, sparkly shoes on her toes and in spectacular full evening dress, if the mood so takes her. Her Instagram is full of artful photos of her wearing glamorous gowns in beautiful locations, or sitting in conversation with various fashion industry movers and shakers such as Angelica Cheung and Diane Von Furstenberg.
Wendy Yu is not only passionate about fashion, she has quietly become London’s sounding board for young British designers negotiating the labyrinthine ways of entering or doing business in China. A clever networker, the 27-year-old is part of a cohort of wealthy Chinese millennials who call London home and are investing their inherited fortunes in the city’s luxury sector.
She has also become a patron of the British Fashion Council’s Fashion Trust, contributes to many philanthropic causes in the creative and artistic spheres, and is in frequent demand for her knowledge of Chinese millennials and their tastes. She is an unofficial ambassador for British fashion in China.
“I can speak as a client as I know what appeals to me and my peers,” she explains. “We have a totally different idea of what is relevant and what is cool. We love to mix and match emerging designers with more established houses. Head-to-toe one brand is just not cool.”
Her support is not just advisory; she is also an investor through her business Yu Capital, founded in 2015. She has put money into Bottletop, an ethical sustainable fashion brand which, through high-profile collaborations, designs luxury accessories with rural artisans around the world. She was also early on board with Asap54, a fashion and beauty search app based on image recognition that was founded by Daniela Cecilio, the wife of Farfetch founder José Neves. The app, which reached one million downloads two years ago, will be upgraded to a concierge platform early next year with lots of new services.
There are other investments, such as Didi Chuxing, for which she says “I successfully cashed out of,” and she has just put money into Tujia.com, China’s equivalent of Airbnb. But she adds: “My tech investments are quite cold and solid and not as personal as the fashion ones. I see fashion at this stage as strategic to my portfolio because I am passionate about it.”
Her latest venture is with Mary Katrantzou, the Greek-born, London-based designer renowned for her innovative digital prints, joyous use of colour and artfully constructed clothes. Yu is a founding member of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Young Patrons’ Circle and met Katrantzou at one of their summer parties.
“She knew I loved fashion and how much I adore her talents, so I think she approached Caroline Rush [chief executive of the British Fashion Council] to check me out,” Yu says. “She invited me to lunch and over a year we have gotten to know each other on a personal and business level.”
Katrantzou’s products are available at the Lane Crawford and Joyce stores in Hong Kong. Yu, however, thinks e-commerce is “totally relevant” for the designer in China, especially after Katrantzou’s successful collaborations with Adidas and Topshop. “[China is] ready for young emerging talent and looking for fresh names.”
Beneath her sweet, girlish demeanour, Yu is smart with lots of ambition and a strong social conscience. She is not part of the Chinese scene in London; she travels too much. She is just back from two months in China and before that she was in Rwanda to see the work of one of the philanthropic projects with which she is involved – Women for Women, a charity that supports marginalised women in countries affected by war and conflict by teaching them artisan skills. She sees an opportunity for work like this in rural China, but admits that philanthropy is still relatively new in China.
Yu is from Zhejiang Province in eastern China, where her business magnate father Yu Jingyuan, among the first to graduate after the Cultural Revolution, founded the Mengtian Group – the largest wooden door manufacturer in Asia with over 1,000 stores in China. She names him, NetEase founder William Ding, fashion journalist Angelica Cheung and publicist Melvin Chua among her list of mentors.
A self-confessed “geeky tomboy” in her early teens, Yu has always felt a love for fashion, filling her room with a vast collection of Barbie dolls and every fashion magazine she could lay her hands on. Educated in England from the age of 15, she earned a degree in fashion management at the London College of Fashion and attended business school courses at the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge, all of which she is putting to good use as she builds Yu Capital.
At the same time – as her Instagram illustrates – she is putting together an enviable collection of designer evening wear, describing it as “an expression of the highest form of creativity”. The collection, together with her vast collection of quirky handbags and her Barbies, is being lined up to form the foundation of a fashion museum she is thinking of establishing in China in 20 years’ time. Now that’s passion.