The Future Of China's Virtual Fashion Shows

    After virtual fashion weeks were integrated with physical runways post-COVID-19, it seemed like they were here to stay. But how are they evolving?
    After virtual fashion weeks were successfully integrated with physical runways post-COVID-19, it seemed like they were here to stay. But how are they evolving? Photo: Courtesy of Angel Chen.
    Aileen YuAuthor
      Published   in Fashion

    Key Takeaways:#

    Chinese brands with stable overseas businesses will continue to buy remotely and need virtual showrooms.

    The major Western player already establishing itself on the Mainland is the New York-based and Japanese-backed digital wholesale platform JOOR.

    In 2021, livestreaming, KOL brand collaborations, and digital content will become even more interactive to leverage virtual platforms, and storytelling will play a vital role in video content to showcase emerging Chinese designers.

    The newness of China’s fashion industry has allowed it to digitize and adapt quickly during a year of global upheaval that has affected supply chains, consumer behavior, and fashion weeks. Shanghai Fashion Week AW20 was the first fashion week to go digital, joining forces with e-tail heavyweight Tmall to livestream the entire event.

    As the world witnessed the success of a virtual fashion week integrated with physical runways, Western fashion capitals such as Milan and London also began experimenting with digitizing their catwalks for SS21. Now that the industry might have to adapt permanently to COVID-19 measures, virtual showrooms are becoming increasingly vital for buyers and brands. That’s because, with limited international travel, fashion weeks and tradeshows have had to opt for conducting remote business.

    DFO, a 360-degree market development group for fashion and lifestyle brands around the world that seek distribution in China, was one of the first to react to this need, primarily due to the company’s international presence at Paris Fashion Week. Meimei Ding, the co-founder of DFO, told Jing Daily that “we were under pressure to react sooner, as we run a showroom in Paris. So we had plans in place even before the announcement from Shanghai. Our immediate response was a jump to digital, livestreaming, and 5G.”

    As such, WWD reported in an article early in the pandemic that “virtual showrooms and livestreaming, which are already defining the shopping experience in China, will become the new standard.” Yet, tradeshows and catwalk presentations will be staging their comebacks in 2021.

    Recently, Jing Daily spoke exclusively to Aroma Xie, the co-founder of a biannual trade show that takes place in Shanghai called Ontimeshow about the future of virtual trade shows, remote buying, and the evolution of digital content in China.

    Chinese brands with overseas business will continue to buy remotely#

    For Chinese buyers purchasing domestic brands, virtual showrooms are currently not as widely used because the COVID-19 crisis was quickly controlled in China, according to Xie. But buyers did travel to buy locally in March and October. “Of course, for those stores that have more stable businesses with overseas brands, virtual showrooms helped them a lot to purchase remotely,” she said.

    A major Western player with a foot in the Mainland is JOOR#

    A New York-based global digital wholesale platform backed by Battery Ventures, Canaan Partners, and ITOCHU called JOOR is currently a major player that’s already established itself in the Chinese market, Xie stated. Recently, Ontimeshow launched OntimeOrder, an online ordering system that allows buyers who cannot travel to purchase remotely. In October, Xie’s company entered a strategic partnership with this Series C start-up and unveiled Ontimeshow on the JOOR Passport page to help their brands test foreign markets.

    She revealed the reason for partnering with JOOR: “OntimeOrder is still in the testing period,” she explained. “We are upgrading the services according to the user feedback in our system but are not providing the basic selecting and ordering functions yet. For example, after a buyer has a draft order for the season, [JOOR’s] system will give immediate suggestions on merchandising, such as what styles or pieces are missing to make a better styling balance. After we interviewed hundreds of buyers, we found these functions to be essential for them.”

    Livestreaming in China follows a B2K2C model#

    In China, livestreaming is being applied in the B2C environment and is again rewriting the rules in this young market. Xie explained, saying, “it’s more like B2K2C, with K here standing for KOLs. The strong sales abilities of KOLs and the quick response of supply chains in China make it possible to shift from the rules of the traditional fashion order season.” This system allows for a rapid, direct, and effective sales method, which results in more capsule collections and exclusive products launched through livestreaming sales. As such, organic KOL collaborations between brands or buyer stores are happening very frequently in this market.

    The evolution of digital content to connect brands and leverage virtual trade shows#

    Aside from providing spaces and connections for B2B trading, Xie adds that Ontimeshow has always showcased innovative content revolving around industry trends at their events. Sustainability, art, and technology were the three keywords for their content at the most recent October trade show. A forum highlighting sustainable fashion was held for two days, while a VR design tool called Hologarment held a product launch.

    Ontimeshow is also continually working on a documentary series called Ethos, which tells the stories of contemporary Chinese fashion designers. In 2021, the tradeshow will launch a new short video program about buyer stores all over China. The purpose of producing all of this video content, Xie said, is to creatively build a bridge between brands and the stores from a platform perspective.

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