What’s new in Chinese sustainable fashion? Shanghai Fashion Week reveals latest in London

What Happened: From September 16 to 29, London’s renowned event venue, China Exchange, will serve as the epicenter of sustainable fashion as Shanghai Fashion Week (SHFW) showcases its latest offerings. 

The event isn’t just about flaunting China-made style; it’s a clarion call for sustainability. Renowned designers like 8ON8, Huishan Zhang, and Nan Knits have unveiled creations that embody environmental mindfulness through upcycling and innovative material use.

The special presentation, called Ulio (有料), highlights SHFW’s vision for an eco-friendly future. In collaboration with Chinese sustainable fashion curator Cui Dan, the exhibition melds local artisanship with global eco trends. 

For example, Shenzhen-born designer Samuel Gui Yang, who was shortlisted for the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers 2020, reimagines the qipao with a sustainable twist. Sourced from a London vintage store, he transforms the traditional Chinese one-piece dress into a contemporary stunner — a testament to the seamless blend of heritage and modernity.

Chinese indie designer Samuel Gui Yang revamps the qipao. Image courtesy of Shanghai Fashion Week

The Jing Take: As Chinese consumers are still price-sensitive post-Covid, they will likely continue to shy away from expensive eco-friendly products. Fashion media veteran Cui envisions a future where there is “a democratization of sustainable fashion by leveraging China’s industrial prowess,” making these products not just a luxury for the few but an accessible choice for the many. 

Jane Zhang, SHFW’s project director, gave Jing Daily the lowdown on China’s buzzing sustainable fashion scene. At the heart of it is Shanghai Fashion Week, a sprawling 60,000-square-meter space where over a thousand Asian brands can showcase their creative expressions and where consumers and industry insiders alike can get a front-row seat to the future of fashion.

“Shanghai Fashion Week offers a nurturing ecosystem for brands, irrespective of their growth stage. From the avant-garde displays at Labelhood to the grandeur of Xintiandi’s main stage, there’s a platform for every vision,” says Zhang. “And there, enterprises are also flaunting their eco credibility in the Ulio Space (有料空间), championing China’s commitment to a carbon-neutral future.” 

But it’s not all smooth sailing for sustainable fashion. The designer of eponymous label Sanspeng sheds light on the dichotomy of the fashion world: “While London’s mature sustainable fashion scene offers designers a systematic approach, it comes at a premium, with costs soaring up to four times that of China. Shanghai, with its robust supply chain, promises speed and affordability.”

Moreover, when it comes to promoting sustainable fashion in China, Western brands often miss the mark. As Anaïs Bournonville from Gentlemen Marketing Agency points out, “Western sustainability narratives don’t always resonate with Chinese consumers. A more tailored approach, emphasizing health, familial ties, and emotional connections, proves more impactful. Brands that solely champion sustainability often stumble in the Chinese market.”

“A more tailored approach, emphasizing health, familial ties, and emotional connections, proves more impactful. Brands that solely champion sustainability often stumble in the Chinese market.”

“The key to success lies in intertwining sustainability with personal well-being, family values, and the broader societal implications. In this context, the strategies employed by Icicle serve as a valuable reference for others in the industry,” she adds.

Considering the increasingly discerning tastes of Chinese consumers, designers face a dual challenge. They must not only communicate a compelling “sustainable fashion” narrative but also craft products that consumers actually want to purchase. To create sustainable apparel with mass appeal, designers must still consider aesthetics and market viability.

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.