Mainland brand Mo & Co celebrates its 10th anniversary in style
Guangzhou isn't exactly China's fashion capital, but the city earned some serious fashion cred after home-grown brand Mo & Co celebrated its 10th anniversary in the futuristic Guangzhou Opera House designed by Zaha Hadid.
The fashion show had model and campaign girl Liu Wen on the runway in the autumn-winter collection by Edition, 10 Mo & Co's high-end sister brand, while celebrity guests included actress Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, models Ming Xi and Tian Yi, singer Shang Wenjie and dancer Duan Ni.
Mo & Co may not be known globally, but in its native China it's one of the few brands that has capitalised on the growing demand for mid-priced fashion. Launched in 2004 by creative director and founder Jenny Kam, the label found success thanks to its combination of trend-focused designs and affordable price tags. Today Mo & Co has 500 stores in China (287 of which are franchises), with an estimated annual revenue of €250 million (HK$2.6 billion).
The brand's headquarters, located in Guangzhou's TIT Creative Industry Zone, is testament to its success. Consisting of a 10,000 sq ft office and a 12,000 sq ft factory, employees work in a chic industrial space and get free meals in its restaurant, which uses organic ingredients from its own garden. It's a pioneering concept on the mainland and one that many brands aspire to follow. (Proenza Schouler designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez visited the site recently).
Although Mo & Co has defined contemporary fashion in China for the past 10 years, the brand was born out of Kam's desire to make clothing she wanted to wear.
"To be honest, I have never thought about what position it would sit at, whether it would be contemporary or luxury. It was the people who bought it that determined the price point. From the very beginning, it was not a business for me, it was all about passion," she says.
While most local fashion brands at the time were known for overly feminine and saccharine designs, Mo & Co appealed to a new generation with its edgy, fashionable essentials and mix and match style. Inspired by modern French style, the seasonal collections are built around current trends, featuring contemporary silhouettes, innovative details and natural fabrics. This autumn-winter collection, for example, includes printed baseball jackets, zip-up leather skirts with sheer hems and tartan jackets.
"The Mo & Co girl is boyish, but feminine. She dresses freely, and not to please others. She's not mainstream, " says Kam.
In the first few years , Kam encountered many obstacles as China started to open up. She also dabbled with the idea of changing the brand's name to Mo & Co des Paris, but quickly changed her mind when she realised that the Western association (a common strategy employed by local brands to add credibility) was more of a hindrance than advantage. "Honestly I added 'des Paris' because I thought we needed a longer name and the logo looked better. But when it came out, many international friends told me not to do it."
In 2006 Mo & Co further expanded by opening franchise stores with strategic partners. The company also became a vertical operation with 16 self-owned factories all over China. Today they employ more than 2,200 people.
Since 2008 revenues have tripled despite increasing competition and an influx of foreign brands trying to capture the emerging Chinese middle-class market.
"Now China is ultimately the same as any international market and [the problems faced by any brand, foreign or local, are] the same. Luxury brands still have their value, but the market is so mature there is space for everyone.
"We all need to understand Chinese customers and their needs. What is their desire? The most important thing however is to establish your own style and a recognisable DNA. Only then will people see your point of difference and appreciate you," she says. "You must do something different, especially if you are going to capture the younger generation." (The brand also allocates a 60 million yuan - HK$75.5 million - media budget for ad campaigns starring international models such as Freja Beha.)
"What we are trying to do is [create] a brand that's distinctively Chinese, but something people from all over the world can understand and appreciate. We are not trying to follow Chinese rules. Good fashion transcends national boundaries. As long as it's right, it will resonate with anyone.
"Being a Chinese brand is not an obstacle any more. Look at what the Koreans have done. Anything is possible."