Designer Calvin Luo on China’s Booming Designer Brands Scene

    From the rapid growth of the eponymous label to the launch of its subline, Chinese designer Calvin Luo shares his business vision with Jing Daily.
    From the rapid growth of the eponymous label to the launch of its subline, Chinese designer Calvin Luo shares his business vision with Jing Daily. Illustration: Yvan Deng
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    Calvin Luo, founder of the eponymous label CALVINLUO, is next to be welcomed into the Jing Daily community of individuals shaping China’s booming luxury fashion industry. These profiles highlight industry leaders who contribute to the national and global fashion communities, from creatives and influencers to business executives and entrepreneurs.

    The Gen-Z designer was born to be a creative talent. Luo founded his eponymous label in 2014 following a two-year study at Parsons School of Design and debuted the Fall/Winter 2015 collection at New York Fashion Week via the CFDA’s recommendation. Back then, he was the youngest designer on NYFW’s official agenda.

    Born in Chongqing, China, growing up in Shenzhen, studying in New York City, and working in Shanghai, Calvin Luo is a typical global citizen: with a multicultural background and inclusive mindset. Starting the label with womenswear collections which blurred boundaries between femininity and masculinity, the young talent took a similar approach to menswear and launched his first stand-alone collection for Spring/Summer 2019.

    With over 10,500 UGC posts on Xiaohongshu and a cult social following of nearly 100K on Weibo and Xiaohongshu, Luo’s label is one of the hippest fashion brands in China. Some of the hero products have garnered substantial organic endorsements from celebrities and fashion KOLs. Though the fashion sector is experiencing turbulence from the current COVID-19 spike (including the postponement of Shanghai Fashion Week), CALVINLUO in fact recorded sales growth this season.

    Chinese idol Yuyan wears pieces from CALVINLUO's Fall/Winter 2022 collection. Photo: CALVINLUO's Weibo
    Chinese idol Yuyan wears pieces from CALVINLUO's Fall/Winter 2022 collection. Photo: CALVINLUO's Weibo

    Earlier this month, the brand also announced the release of its subline, DTW, featuring a new visual aesthetic and business model. Jing Daily talked to him about his vision for the brand and the challenges and opportunities for Chinese designer labels amid the self-quarantine period in Shanghai.

    Jing Daily: Since you launched CALVINLUO, what are the most significant shifts that the brand has experienced?#

    Calvin Luo:#

    The COVID-19 outbreak was actually a key driver of China’s overall fashion industry. I remember the Fall/Winter 2020 season saw a huge demand from local buyers, as they could not travel abroad and so turned to domestic showrooms instead. Meanwhile, many local media and social platforms have developed rapidly since the pandemic, which also contributes to brand communications.

    As a result, CALVINLUO recorded significant growth over the last two years. Given this, our team has been expanding with more professionals with various specialties, from product development and marketing to communications.

    You lived in some other cities like before you moved to Shanghai. What’s the vibe in Shanghai and how is the city distinct from other fashion hubs?#

    I feel that people living in Shanghai are more open-minded. And the vibe here is very friendly for a fashion start-up business. Our office is located in French Concession, which embraces a chill lifestyle compared to other fast-paced metropolises.

    How would you profile CALVINLUO’s target consumers?#

    To be honest, I don’t have a specific image in my mind. As we currently focus on B2B channels, I don’t have direct access to our clients. However, I’ve started to learn more about our consumers on social media and made some interesting findings. Though we usually summarize our key customer base as Gen Z and millennial females, we do see some variations in ages and body shapes in certain regional markets. So, I welcome different types of customers and try to be more inclusive, taking physical, geographical, and cultural differences into account.

    We see many iconic products from CALVINLUO recording extremely high sales numbers and generating substantial UGC posts on Xiaohongshu. How do you build hero products?#

    I see products as the core competitiveness of the brand. I would say a hero product consists of 70 percent of effort in design and 30 percent in marketing. Actually, we did not expect some products to be the hero ones before they were launched, and we did not create such iconic products intentionally.

    However, I did categorize some features of the items recording impressive sales numbers. First of all, signature symbols represent the brand’s identity and culture. Secondly, the hero products are usually very inclusive in terms of colors and shapes. Lastly, a reasonable price is important when it comes to convincing the general customers of Chinese designer brands.

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    Can you share the most impressive brand campaigns with us?#

    The virtual runway of Season 10 (F/W 2021 collection), which broke the boundary between front row and backstage in typical fashion shows. This was one of the most impressive seasonal launches and the most successful programs after the pandemic. It took us nearly three months to coordinate all participants, including celebrities, KOLs, and many other creative talents, and it was well-received by audiences.

    You launched the subline of CALVINLUO, DTW, earlier this month. Can you tell us more about this?#

    DTW will present a totally different brand image and business model from CALVINLUO. The reason why I started the subline was because I’ve got used to the traditional season-driven flow of the fashion industry and want to try something new. So, this new label will take a more spontaneous approach, featuring the “Drop” model without a limit of time or amount of looks. More importantly, we are going to consolidate our commitment to sustainability by recycling fabrics from stocks of CALVINLUO.

    Looks from CALVINLUO's subline, DTW. Photo: CALVINLUO's Weibo
    Looks from CALVINLUO's subline, DTW. Photo: CALVINLUO's Weibo

    Have you considered global expansion in the future?#

    Global markets have always been on our map. We were at New York and Paris Fashion Weeks’ agendas and collaborated with e-commerce platforms like Net-A-Porter and SSENSE as well as overseas PR agencies and showrooms. But some collaborations with multi-brand stores abroad were interrupted due to the pandemic outbreak. We've kept an eye on different markets and hope to expand our global footprints in the future.

    What’s the biggest challenge for Chinese designer brands?#

    I have to say the rivalries between homegrown designer brands have been heating up in recent years. It’s getting harder for emerging brands to stand out in the market. Meanwhile, this group of Chinese designers, many of which graduated from recognized fashion schools, have decent academic backgrounds in design. However, their knowledge in business is relatively limited, which of course presents challenges for them to manage a team and continuously seek opportunities for the company.

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