Chinese designers are thriving, but Western e-commerce is failing them

    Chinese designers looking to benefit from the exposure generated by Western e-commerce platforms face requests for huge inventory and lengthy onboarding processes.
    Mytheresa invited Chinese designers to design exclusive capsules to be sold on the online store. Photo: Mytheresa
      Published   in Retail

    The wild west of luxury e-commerce might dishearten designers, but it is a growth accelerant for brands. Online retail provides consistent access to a targeted global clan of consumers, swelling fan bases and providing collaboration opportunities.

    But how can Chinese brands get in on the action?

    The right fit#

    Of the brands from China that have achieved notable e-commerce success in the West, Shushu/Tong and Lisa Yang stand out. Shanghai-based label Shushu/Tong owes its longevity, in part, to its decade-long partnership with Dover Street Market, often releasing exclusives with the retailer.

    And Chinese-Scandi brand Lisa Yang’s commercial results are boosted by support from online retail with companies such as Net-a-Porter, Harrods, Mytheresa, and Browns.

    However, for independent designers who show at fashion week, attracting buyers can be a tricky feat. The majority of Chinese designers at the major European fashion weeks are not stocked by mainstream retailers. Feng Chen Wang, for example, is only available at Ssense, and Susan Fang’s collections can only be bought on Mytheresa.

    “Designers need to find the right multi-brand e-commerce platform,” Trends & Insights Researcher Laura Ewing says. “This is essential for those looking to expand their global presence.”

    “By conducting thorough research, designers can identify platforms that not only align with their brand identity, but also cater to their specific target audience and product niche. Which audiences do they want to tap into?”

    Size matters#

    Farfetch is the leading stockist for Chinese designers in the West. The London-based online store sells products from more than 700 boutiques and brands from, including the likes of Parisian-Shanghainese Byfang, C2h4, Huishan Zhang, Rui, Shiatzy Chen, Shang Xia, Team Wang, Uma Wang, Yuhan Wang, Xander Zhou, Yang Li, and Renli Su.

    Farfetch’s marketplace aggregation model enables consumers to explore unique products that traditional retailers might not include in their inventory, creating more freedom of choice for shoppers.

    That said, Farfetch’s selection is wide-ranging, while Ssense offers a more carefully curated choice of avant-garde, fashion-forward styling. Then there are Selfridges, a champion of commerciality, Harrods and Liberty, which occupy the upper end of luxury.

    Shanghai’s celebrity-fav cartoon couturier Windowsen has found that these retailers are not always an option.

    “For us at, it’s quite challenging. Platforms such as Selfridges cater primarily to mass-market consumers, while our brand is more niche and edgy,” Windowsen Creative Director Sensen Lii tells Jing Daily. “We likely don’t generate the level of traffic that more mainstream commercial brands do, which is a clear disadvantage.”

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    Still, the situation for more commercial, mainstream designers such as Susan Fang, who counts Victoria’s Secret, Nike, and & Other Stories among her collaborators, is also challenging.

    Stocked at Mytheresa and Revolve, having previously appeared on Selfridges and Net-a-Porter’s platforms, Susan Fang says that order requests are a sticking point.

    “Usually their orders are really big, thus they need to have careful calculations before initiating an order with an independent designer, which can range from half a year to one year,” says Fang.

    “For example, our first fully online retail [offering] was with Net-a-Porter before Covid-19, and they approached us. The buyer was super supportive and we met at their office, then got their feedback on pricing and sizing to increase online sales and better understand consumers. It then took one year to confirm an actual buy; once that was confirmed, it was the largest order we ever had at that stage as it was across all regions worldwide.”

    Helping hand#

    Lii says that smaller designers could benefit from support in terms of communications and storytelling.

    “A practical first step might be to initiate small-scale offline pop-up events at physical retail stores. This approach helps introduce our brand directly to consumers, making it easier for them to understand who we are and what we represent. Establishing a connection through these offline experiences could smooth the transition to online platforms,” says Lii.

    The best performing luxury e-commerce platform this year, Mytheresa takes an innovative approach to buying Chinese designers.

    Germany’s major luxury retailer, boasts Susan Fang, Xu Zhi, Lisa Yang, and Didu among its current selection.

    The company, which focuses on the higher end segment, reported net sales of approximately $211 million in the three months ending December 31, 2023, putting it ahead of its peers.

    CEO Michael Kliger said in an interview that the company is striving to attract consumers who purchase luxury over and over, rather than as a one-off treat. The strategy is working.

    To reap benefits from Western e-commerce platforms, it is crucial that brands analyze whether the pros of exposure outweigh the cons, such as the expense of providing extensive inventory.

    Compared to the slow death of more commercial platforms, Mytheresa is achieving steady progress, so there’s a beacon of hope for independent Chinese labels.

    • E-commerce sites such as Net-a-Porter or Selfridges can offer independent Chinese designers access to a global audience, amping up exposure and consumer loyalty.
    • Chinese brands must find the right fit in an e-commerce partner to expand their reach, considering brand identity and whether the platform speaks to their audience.
    • Chinese designers report that the level of inventory requested by global multi-brand retailers is often hard to accommodate and brands must analyze whether the pros of exposure outweigh the cons.
    • Brands can consider smaller scale retail pop-ups to introduce their vision to global audiences before a full scale e-commerce launch.
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