Icicle Fashion Group might not be a household name outside China as yet, but the successful Shanghai-based fashion brand has its eyes set on the world stage. In 2020, the brand clinched the top spot of Tmall’s famous 11.11 Single’s Day sale in the luxury womenswear category, above same-tier international brands such as Theory and Sandro. According to Chinese media, its Shanghai outlet, a 1,076 sq ft boutique, scored an average 50 million yuan (around US$7.7 million) in sales per month. And in 2018, Icicle acquired failing French maison Carven – established in 1945, and a favourite of singer Édith Piaf. London, Beijing or Dubai: which is the biggest shopping destination? Founded in 1997 by husband-wife duo Ye Shouzeng and Shawna Tao, Icicle is a ready-to-wear label that differentiates itself from its contemporaries with a dedicated focus on sustainability and using only natural fabrics, all centred on a “made in earth” philosophy seeking harmony with nature. Although the company struggled to find its audience in its infancy, its minimal, sophisticated garments soon caught on in China’s fast-evolving luxury market. While part of Icicle’s success might be attributed to a visibility boost from being featured on the popular TV show Nothing But Thirty , Icicle has also built a loyal customer base with its uncompromising quality. Production is tightly controlled, and ethical textile manufacturers and eco-friendly technologies are key requirements for the brand. Materials are carefully sourced; only natural fibres such as Japanese organic cotton, cruelty-free Chinese heavy silk and Belgian linen are used. They’re also either kept in their raw colours, like the Mongolian cashmeres, or dyed with vegetable pigments. Ye and his wife Tao studied design at Donghua University, then known as China Textile University, in the 90s, a time when young professionals were in the market for stylish, sophisticated workwear. When the couple graduated, they saw Icicle as a way to meet that demand, as well as reinterpret what it meant to be “Made in China”, cultivating a company that sought to be ethical and environmental. From Zoom to fintech AI: 8 times Li Ka-shing’s tech investments paid off View this post on Instagram A post shared by ICICLE (@icicle__official) Would you spend US$70,000 on MSCHF’s on-request sandals made from Hermès Birkin bags? The couple invested in hiring the best professionals from top to bottom to grow their brand. Shop staff were rigorously trained, then empowered to curate the merchandise based on the different needs of their locality. The result: sales staff with excellent product knowledge, and who take pride and ownership in their work. In fact, Icicle’s customer service is routinely praised by satisfied shoppers. The company set up a design studio in Paris in 2012 to tap into the talent pool in Europe, and then hired Isabelle Capron, former marketing director at Lanvin, to help the brand establish its international identity. Today, there are over 250 stores in China, as well as a luxury flagship in Paris housed in a historical town house on the prestigious Avenue George V, all of which generate around 1.3 billion yuan (almost US$200 million) in sales annually. How Kuaishou’s Su Hua took on TikTok to make US$19 billion “In the eyes of the French, Icicle embodies a very fashionable movement, that of ‘New China’, a wave of innovative fashion brands that draw on 5,000 years of textile history and export not only international fashion, but also their values. It’s a form of natural luxury in how it does things and its style, a new, more reasonable and reasoned luxury,” said Capron. Indeed, the “Made in China” tag usually comes with stereotypes about shoddy workmanship and inferior quality, but Icicle has been working steadily for years to establish a new association – well-made, ethical products that draw on the country’s deep heritage. However, the pandemic seems to have currently put Icicle’s plans for a second store in Paris on ice. The company reportedly also wants to launch boutiques in Milan and London. Want more stories like this? Sign up here. Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .