Shanghai Leading China’s Multi-Brand Boutique Movement
Though the subject of China’s high-end fashion scene often conjures up images of vast, sparsely populated shopping malls, a subset of fashion-forward shoppers and entrepreneurs is leading a burgeoning multi-brand boutique movement that has sprung up in major Chinese cities in recent years. Offering hand-picked collections and designers not readily available in China, these boutiques — like their indie counterparts in Japan and the United States — cater to a niche shopper with a more discriminating and knowledgeable understanding of the global fashion scene, rather than the logo-saturated mass-market consumer.
Continuing our series on Shanghai’s growing multi-brand boutique scene — which has previously spotlighted Alter, Le Lutin, THE VILLA, The Olive Shoppe, Dong Liang and SPACESHIP by TIPS — this week we turn our attention to the Chinese fashion site Fashion Trend Digest (Jing Daily interview), which recently took a look at B.Y. Located at Xintiandi Style (新天地时尚) mall and founded by fashion obsessive Wang Jian (王健), B.Y. caters to Shanghai shoppers with occasional high-end gothic proclivities, stocking menswear collections by labels such as Rick Owens, Piero Guidi and Japan’s Lad Musician. From Wang’s interview (translation by Jing Daily team):
FTD: When did you decide to open this shop?
Wang Jian (WJ): Actually, in early 2006 I opened a different multi-brand store at [Shanghai commercial complex] Highstreet Loft (尚街Loft). Of course, that store was a lot different than this one. It’s been a gradual process. I started to learn more about designer brands through friends, and eventually figured out how to develop my store into a larger multi-brand boutique. I mean, in terms of my interest in fashion, I can trace that back to 1997, when I was working for an airline. I had the chance to go to the US and was exposed to some brands who were popular there at that time. Unlike now, you couldn’t find many of these brands in China — even Levi’s. Slowly, boutiques started opening up on Changle Lu, then later on more opened up in Xintiandi. The area started to become sort of a fashion landmark, with a lot of cutting-edge designers starting to show up in stores. So, finally, I decided to open a large store here.
Right now, we mostly stock a collection of sort of avant-garde designer brands and trendy designers from Europe, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong. In the near future, we’re hoping to collaborate with some domestic Chinese designers and brands to provide them a new platform to reach shoppers here.
FTD: What’s your customer base? Usually at high-end multi-brand boutiques, the mainstream consumer group is quite loyal. Is that the case with your store?
WJ: The overall distribution of our customer base is pretty extensive and spread out all over the country. Of course, our long-time customers are very important, as these folks like to make big orders of foreign designer brands. But a lot of the products that our customers want from our store are items that they want us to customize for them. Service-wise, we try to be flexible and user-friendly. Because we understand the needs of our customers, especially our loyal customers, those who have stuck with us. We’ll adjust items to suit what they like and what they need.
Going forward, like I said, in the future we hope to support more domestic designer brands, and hold occasional activities with designers as well as artists. I want this store to be an active space. Recently, we tried that out by working with an American artist, who made an installation for the store out of old airplane parts. I’m also trying to work with the store layout to make the space itself a little more flexible and adjustable. So occasionally we’ll have gatherings and private parties here, mainly for friends, designers, some VIPs and old customers. They’re making this shop something more interesting, and really supporting what we’re doing.
FTD: From the progress you’ve made with this multi-brand boutique model, how do you see the opportunities and the challenges in the market here?
WJ: I don’t think the multi-brand boutique model is new. Actually I think it’s been around for quite some time, particularly when we’re talking about large-scale high-end stores like [Hong Kong’s] IT, JOYCE and Lane Crawford. But now in the mid-size segment of the market, you’ve got stores like ours, and others like TIPS. There are a lot of small shops too, especially nowadays, looking to get into this market. The difficulty is that the domestic Chinese market is not very mature, not only in terms of consumers but also the market environment. For example, many times people’s ideals and reality clash, as they find that the Chinese market isn’t as up to the level of sophistication or consumer development that they’d hoped. The market and the potential of the market don’t always fit together. Also, the environment itself isn’t the same as it is in other overseas markets. Whereas some brands may be somewhat mass-market in their home countries, here in China their potential customer base is pretty narrow. So what’s needed is a combination of economic strength and consumer taste.
Some consumers have yet to really go through the experience of buying luxury goods, so when they do, they go overboard with the logos. Some of my oldest customers have already gone through this stage, they’re over it, so they’re able to accept and get into cutting-edge designers. One good thing, though, is that is way easier and more convenient for Chinese people to go abroad, so some people will travel overseas and encounter new brands, and that’ll have an impact on what they look for when they come home. It’ll take time for the market to mature and for customers to develop, learn about and get interested in these cutting-edge designer brands.
Xintiandi Style, L102/148
245 Madang Lu, near Fuxing Lu, Huangpu district, Shanghai
Hours: 10am-10pm daily