Ye: China’s Fashion Industry Has Only Just Begun
China’s fashion industry may only be in its infancy, but with Chinese designers increasing their presence and visibility at events like the recent China International Fashion Week and Shanghai Fashion Week, and even expanding overseas, it may eventually become a global force to be reckoned with. With this in mind, Jing Daily analyst Betty Chen recently spoke to the Shanghai-based editor of the influential news site Fashion Trend Digest, Ye Qizheng (叶琪峥) about the current status of China’s fashion industry, upcoming trends he expects to see taking shape, luxury consumption, and the internationalization of “designed-in-China” fashion labels. Interview translated from the original Mandarin Chinese.
Jing Daily (JD): Can you tell us a little about the current status of China’s fashion industry and what you expect to see in the months ahead?
Ye Qizheng (YQZ): China’s fashion industry has only just started, mostly due to the entrance of international top and fast fashion brands into the Chinese market. These brands have basically played the role of “illuminating” China’s fashion world. Now, producers in the fashion industry here are no longer strictly product-oriented, and have started to think more about lifestyle.
Then again, China’s young post-80s and post-90s generations are able to quickly absorb fashion info and trends, with more people traveling abroad and broadening their vision. This has essentially forced the fashion industry in China to upgrade. With the huge potential for consumption, China will be a critical part of the global fashion world, which is a huge opportunity for Chinese designers and brands. China is a vast country with several layers of markets, however, so every type of brand will have to battle it out here.
JD: At the recently concluded China International Fashion Week, we saw the latest work by Chinese designers. Among China’s emerging designers, is there anyone you are optimistic about in particular? What would you say is the current status of Chinese designers on the global stage?
YQZ: China International Fashion Week was sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, but the designers who showcased their work were still established members of the China Fashion Designers Association. As the cost of showing at China International Fashion Week is relatively high, it’s difficult for new designers to take part without additional funding.
Personally, I am optimistic about Chinese designer brands like Exception, JNBY, Decoster, and Helen Lee. At the moment, Chinese fashion designers are still in the phase of integrating into the world fashion stage. It’ll be a critical step for them to sell their pieces internationally to raise their status, though.
JD: So to raise their status internationally, what kind of homework do Chinese designers need to do?
YQZ: First, they need to find the right business partners. JNBY, for example, has built a great sales partnership in New York. Second, Chinese designers need to kick up their design capabilities to fit in with international standards when they look to interpret Asian design. Third, they need to be patient when trying to find financial support.
JD: China International Fashion Week in Beijing and Shanghai Fashion Week were held at almost the same time. Can you compare the two? Also, how do they stack up compared to Fashion Week in New York, Paris, Milan, London and other major fashion capitals?
YQZ: The main difference between the two Fashion Weeks is their operational organization. China International Fashion Week is organized by the China Fashion Designers Association, so it can get many nationwide fashion brands involved. In that Fashion Week, one can win the title of “Top Ten Chinese Designer,” which does a lot to help promote a brand. Shanghai Fashion Week is organized by the Shanghai Garment Trade Association, so it can really only get local brands involved. However, this year Shanghai Fashion Week got a nod from the Ministry of Commerce as a national event, so we’ll see.
Compared to the four major Fashion Weeks overseas, China’s Fashion Weeks are still essentially local events, which means it’s tough for them to attract major media attention. Also, the role of Fashion Week in China as a trade platform isn’t that important yet, so there’s really a small proportion of buyers in the audience. Fashion buyer shops are still in their infancy here.
JD: In recent years, cross-border partnerships between designers and artists and fashion and luxury brands have become more frequent. What do you think will be the impact of this kind of cross-border partnership on China’s art world, fashion industry and luxury market?
YQZ: Cross-border cooperation has really become a trend, an important way for new designers to emerge. Every season, for its new collection release, the Danish shoe brand Ecco finds a local designer to create a runway collection, and both the brand and the designer show up on the press release. Cooperation with international brands is a good way for [Chinese] designers to promote themselves. In the years ahead, this kind of cross-border cooperation will probably only become more popular. For Chinese designers who haven’t found a successful way to develop their brands, it’s a good way to bring in some income as well as attract more media attention.
JD: You’ve previously mentioned in articles, as we have, that many luxury brands are focusing on second- and third-tier cities in search of business opportunities after gaining rapid growth in top-tier cities. Compared to first-tier cities, what kind challenges do you think brands need to address in second- and third-tier cities?
YQZ: The main challenge is talent. There aren’t enough qualified professionals that can be trained in such a limited period. Second, high-end commercial developments in these smaller cities aren’t nearly good enough. For example, brands need to ask themselves: Is there an appropriate location to set up shop? Are property managers professional? Gucci previously encountered these issues at its Shenzhen location. Some problems shouldn’t be problems from the beginning.
JD: As fashion gradually progresses from “made-in-China” to “designed-in-China,” how do you think China’s upstart luxury brands can become more international?
YQZ: Instead of waiting for others to understand us, we need to use international languages and operational models to cater to the needs of the world. We need to actually make valuable products, too, rather than just saying or writing about our fashion and luxury goods. Also, in terms of the outside environment, the government should play a supporting role, offering tax breaks, intellectual property protection and other things.
JD: In your opinion, are China’s luxury consumers more fashion-oriented or luxury-oriented? Do you foresee attitudes towards consumption shifting in the future?
YQZ: Well, currently, China’s luxury consumers are clearly more concerned about elements of luxury. It’s a must to show social status through the price or displaying logos. This conception of consumption will change, but it needs more time. Shifts in Chinese industry come in gradients, so it’s going to be the same in terms of consumption. After conspicuous consumers turn to personal consumers, China’s new rich will become conspicuous consumers.
JD: Can you say something about the impact of micro-blogs, blogs and social networks on China’s fashion industry? How can brands make better use of new media to interact with fashion-hungry netizens?
YQZ: The impact of micro-blogs is enormous. Now, almost every brand has its own social media platform. Blogs and social networking are important supplements for micro-blogs as well. It’s very important to reach opinion leaders who can find the right brands and really like a certain set of brands on a personal level. It’s critical to establish good relationships with fashion-focused netizens. And what I mean is a sort of friendship between a brand and its buyers, rather than a simple business relationship.