China is still struggling to build a global fashion brand – not that producing a worldwide label matters
Designers like Huishan Zhang are popular and international buyers flocked to Shanghai Fashion Week, but with a booming middle class and big spending individuals at home, China’s industry can still flourish within its own borders
One of the most talked-about events at London Fashion Week in September was the opening of the first boutique of Huishan Zhang, a Chinese designer based there.
Located on Mount Street, the same address as the London outposts of brands such as Céline, the shop is a bold statement from the young creator. “The collection has done so well with retailers it has encouraged us to do more, and the new store says [to them] we are really serious about fashion,” Zhang told the Post at the opening.
It’s not often that a Chinese brand gets to be in the spotlight in one of Europe’s fashion capitals. In spite of its manufacturing prowess as a maker of mass-market and high-end apparel for international brands, China has so far been unable to create and foster a truly global fashion label, whether from the luxury spectrum or the high street. Made in China, yes. But designed, conceived and created in China for an international audience, not so much.
While other Asian countries such as South Korea and Japan have become huge exporters of home-grown fashion and beauty, China has lagged behind. Japan, for instance, has not only produced some of the top luxury labels of modern times (from Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Comme des Garçons all the way to Undercover and Sacai) but also mass brands such as Uniqlo and Muji, whose footprint is truly global.
In recent years, Chinese brands such as outerwear maker Bosideng and sports label Li Ning have attempted to expand outside their domestic market.
When Bosideng, known for its down jackets available in thousands of shops throughout China, opened a store on London’s posh South Molton Street in 2012, it was hailed as a Chinese label’s first foray into global retail. We know how that ended (the shop closed its doors five years later after a less than stellar performance).
Closer to our shores, Shanghai Tang, a purveyor of a cliché, yet very tasteful, view of all things Chinese, has tried, not always successfully, to expand beyond Hong Kong. Particularly after being acquired in 1998 by luxury group Richemont, which sold the label to Alessandro Bastagli, an Italian investor, and a Hong Kong-based equity fund in June 2017. Its boutiques in London and New York closed long ago and the brand has very little presence outside Greater China, but Bastagli recently told the Post that he is planning to open shops in Paris and Milan.
According to Liz Flora, editor, Asia Pacific Research at L2 Inc, the Chinese fashion industry is indeed trying to develop local talent.
“Chinese fashion designers have been heading to fashion schools in New York, Paris, and London and showing at the top international fashion weeks, as well as attracting international buyers to Shanghai Fashion Week,” she says. “Domestic e-tailers have been promoting up-and-coming Chinese fashion labels as they cooperate with international retailers.
“Alibaba and JD.com have both sponsored promotions of Chinese fashion designers at major international fashion weeks such as London, New York, and Milan, and Tmall served as the official partner for the most recent New York Fashion Week.” Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.
Perhaps it will be some time before China’s role on the international fashion scene shifts from that of consumer and maker of luxury goods to that of a creative force to be reckoned with, but on a more basic level, one could make the argument that Chinese brands don’t even need to expand beyond their borders.
After all, when your home turf counts a booming middle class and a growing population of high-net- worth individuals, why bother trying to appeal to the entire world?
In the mood for expansion – Italian owner wants to take Hong Kong fashion brand Shanghai Tang global
Unlike Western companies, which tend to aim for world domination from day one, risking over-expansion (Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Prada come to mind), Chinese brands have quickly learned that sometimes less is more and focusing all your energies and resources on your own backyard is perhaps the way to go.