Fashion’s Masha Ma out to catch outdoor gear wave in China by designing for Kolon Sport
Fresh from a Paris Fashion Week triumph with a signature hard-edged collection inspired by Wong Kar-wai film 2046, Ma has another date in mind, China’s Winter Olympics in 2022, with design role at Kolon Sport China
The future may be uncertain, but that’s exciting for Chinese fashion designer Masha Ma.
Her recent Paris Fashion Week show was inspired by director Wong Kar-wai’s film 2046, set almost 50 years after Hong Kong’s 1997 British handover to China, so, she says, “the collection was kind of interpreted to express a sense of the uncertainty of the future. But at the same time, that uncertainty is kind of essential, inspiring and exciting.”
While the front row in Paris gushed over her hard-edged collection, bigger news went almost unnoticed.
Having launched four labels of her own Ma, 33, has just joined Kolon Sport China as chief design officer and helped celebrate the recent opening of the brand’s Deji Plaza store in Nanjing, capital of eastern China’s Jiangsu province.
She has also collaborated with Kolon – founded in the 1970s in Korea as an all-weather sporting label – on bold raincoats and big jackets for her own spring/summer 2018 collection.
Kolon Sport China, established in 2006 in a joint venture with Chinese giant Anta Sports, is being repositioned with a younger and more fashionable edge under Ma’s direction.
“We chose Masha because she’s young and has an international sensibility,” says Hajun Yang, chairman of Kolon Sport China.
“Outdoor gear is one of the next big things in fashion in China,” says Ma, who splits her time between Shanghai and Paris. “Kolon will have 230 stores in the country by the start of next year.” The brand already has 260 in Korea.
Yang says: “The company is planning to open 250 more stores in Greater China, including Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan – taking us to a total of 450-480 stores in Greater China.”
“It was a great chance,” says Ma of the collaboration. “We now have all these resources for doing outerwear pieces at Kolon – it was the hi-tech possibilities, all the synthetics that made me really excited about what I can do.”
She met Yang when designing some of the Chinese team’s outfits for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in collaboration with Anta Sports, the team’s official uniform sponsor.
Kolon’s expertise in manufacturing and technical materials will help Ma experiment at her own label with “new Gore-Tex fabrics, outdoor fabrics and special finishings with added functionalities”.
There are around 700 outdoor sports brands doing business in China, says Yang, but “if you took away the logos, many of the products would be similar, and still focused on climbing and functionality.”
Kolon’s strategy is to move to an “urban outdoor” brand – fashionable, younger, and lifestyle driven – suitable for office and travel.
Yang believes that “until the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, the sports sector will grow faster than any other in fashion”.
“It happened in America and elsewhere in the world,” Ma says, “I definitely think that China is next. People are more financially stable and have this desire to discover nature rather than just stay in the city or metropolis in their spare time.”
The role at Kolon is another feather in Ma’s cap; the designer is well on her way to becoming China’s busiest big-name designer. Her main high-fashion label, Masha Ma, is the anchor of her rapidly growing empire, which also includes MA by Ma Studio – focusing on more girly daily wear and casual dresses – Mattitude, her new menswear line, and Masha Ma x Lo Fi, a youthful brand targeting arts and music style tribes.