Exclusive Interview: Caroline Rush on China and the Future of Fashion Week

This season’s London Fashion Week (September 14-18) is seeing a new wave of Chinese designers take the runway, thanks to the online sales platform vip.com (VIPshop).

Earlier this year, the British Fashion Council, led by their Chief Executive Caroline Rush, announced a strategic partnership with the e-tailer—the first of China’s e-tail giants to sponsor the renowned event. The agreement gave London brands unprecedented access to data on Chinese consumer trends and purchases, and in return, the collaboration enabled the e-commerce site to promote its homegrown Chinese talent on one of the world’s most iconic fashion stages.

VIPshop is one of China’s top three e-commerce retailers, behind competitors JD.com and Alibaba, with annual retail sales of $11.2 billion (RMB 76.8 billion) and over 57.8 million active customers. At its first official showing at London Fashion Week, VIPshop invited designers from China to showcase their collections in a runway show they’re live-streaming on their site.

The show’s theme is “C-Pop” and it features collections from four young designers: A Life On The Left, Bailuyu, Kisscat, and Muzkin. Tony Feng, Vice-President of Marketing at VIPshop, told Jing Daily that they were “looking for designers who had a deep understanding of Chinese history and culture, as well as the ability to apply this knowledge to a modern, youthful aesthetic.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 13: Chief Strategy Officer at Farfetch, Stephanie Phair, Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council Caroline Rush attends the Vip.com presents C-Pop show at London Fashion Week on September 13, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Marsland/Getty Images for Vip.com)

LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 13: Chief Strategy Officer at Farfetch, Stephanie Phair, Chief Executive of the British Fashion Council Caroline Rush attends the Vip.com presents C-Pop show at London Fashion Week on September 13, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Marsland/Getty Images for Vip.com)

In an interview with Jing Daily at London Fashion Week, Rush, along with SVP Head of Merchandising at VIPshop Susan Sun, explained how they believe China can reshape the international fashion scene and what their partnership means for the future of global brands.

Why has London Fashion Week chosen to partner with a Chinese e-commerce platform, and what exactly does this partnership mean for luxury brands at London Fashion Week?

Rush: Vip.com has an office here in London, and our teams started talking a year ago. In June, we came up with the idea of being able to curate a group of fantastic Chinese designers and use London’s Fashion Week platform (because we have a great deal of traction back into China) to live-stream them on vip.com.

Over the past few years, China has become a stronger and stronger market for brands. Lots of our smaller businesses here really want to understand the easiest routes into the Chinese market, and that’s why we’ve formed this relationship with vip.com and why we’ve launched our WeChat account. It’s about [the British Fashion Council] helping to create these partnerships and learn about the opportunities ourselves, so we can share that knowledge and access with our businesses.

It also means we can promote the ideas that support London Fashion Week in China; creativity, innovation, and our role as a global platform. From there, we can really look at customer engagement with Chinese businesses so that we help them tell their story here in London, while we also plan on how to take our British brands into China.

The theme of vip.com’s first London Fashion Week show is C-Pop. How are China’s young shoppers leading the style trends we’re seeing?

Sun: China’s young shoppers are more global than ever before. They have a larger worldview and are no longer looking for strictly traditional luxury designs. We’re seeing that in trends like luxury streetwear and activewear, but they still really enjoy traditional culture, and they’re looking for designer’s to use history and heritage to create something new.

Rush: Vip.com has definitely communicated to us that young Chinese consumers really enjoy the storytelling around heritage designs, but in particular, it’s about how brands are re-interpreting them for modern consumers today. China has a smart, engaged audience that’s hungry for information about new designers, and we, of course, have a wealth of that here at London Fashion Week.

How has the ease of mobile shopping changed the fashion world in your opinion?

Rush: It’s changed it phenomenally, particularly in London where there’s been a large buying shift. For example, we have Net-A-Porter, MatchesFashion, and Farfetch—British e-tailers that have built fantastic international businesses. They’ve created this buying power in London that is such a great advantage to the British businesses on their doorstep.

How do you hope to evolve the partnership between the British Fashion Council and vip.com in the future?

Rush: We are looking to bring lots of British designers to China later this year, so now it’s really about creating demand and excitement around that. One of the brilliant things about working with any company that has a digital footprint is the information and data you can get in terms of what’s selling and what customers are looking at. For us, learning what engagement was like during the event over the next few weeks will be key.

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With the rise of alternative fashion weeks—including Shanghai’s—how can traditional events like New York’s and London’s Fashion Weeks keep up?

Rush: We are constantly thinking about fashion week innovation and talking about how to bring in consumer audiences. By using data from places like vip.com, we can analyze our key consumers and give them the designers they want to see.

One of the projects we’re working on is a bespoke data tool with Google that will look at some of the conversational trends that came out of London Fashion Week. That would let us study how those trends reach, impact, and evolve in countries like China. Having the ability to look at some of the cultural and social impact coming out of London Fashion Week is very important for us going forward, particularly in terms of how we can leverage incredible online platforms to communicate to consumer audiences in different ways.

What fashion and beauty trends will we see in 2019, and do you expect, as Simon Collins does, the rise of a Chinese mega-brand?

Rush: I think it’s expected that something big like this will come out of China soon. China is constantly growing and evolving—it’s amazing. Fashion Weeks are all about creating trends, and by the end of London Fashion Week, I think we’ll see some really key trends coming out of China.

Sun: Yes. In China, fashion is booming now, and I really think it’s the time for the birth of one of these mega-brands. This is a big reason why we think the C-Pop theme will be really influential at the show: We’ve had the eras of K-Pop and J-Pop… 2019 will be the year of C-Pop.

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