Chinese Designers Go Global: What's Behind The Collab Boom

    Chinese fashion designers are finding fame through brand collaborations. Susan Fang and Didu tell Jing Daily how they approach such partnerships.
    Shushu/Tong collaborated with global Singaporean brand Charles & Keith in 2022. Photo: Charles & Keith

    Thanks to surging fashion collaborations, Chinese designers are gaining attention on the global stage, expanding their consumer bases, and becoming synonymous with some of the world’s biggest fashion brands.

    More consumers around the world have seen Chinese-born, London-based Feng Chen Wang’s deconstructed Converse All-Stars, than the designer’s solo menswear output.

    Collaboration also propelled London-based Susan Fang’s rise to prominence. Her 2022 Zara collection, stocked in 86 countries worldwide, appeared in more news feeds than her fairytale-esque pieces that grace London Fashion week each season.

    Feng Chen Wang has brought her DIY edge to Converse for multiple collaborative launches Photo: Feng Chen Wang
    Feng Chen Wang has brought her DIY edge to Converse for multiple collaborative launches Photo: Feng Chen Wang

    Quid quo pro#

    From Angel Chen penetrating high-end outerwear and fast-fashion via collections with Canada Goose and Hamp;M, to Shushu/Tong’s introduction to streetwear via an Asics GEL-MC sneaker in 2022, the rate and variety of collaborations is enhancing China’s presence in the fashion industry.

    In turn, collaborating brands are able to build authentic connections with the Chinese market and diaspora around the world — the country is the world’s second highest consumer of luxury.

    Fang tells Jing Daily that collaborative collection sales are always much higher than those for her own label.

    “They definitely sell super fast. Usually, they sell out within the week. But also it's a very different system from ours,” she says.

    Her business operates a made-to-order model, which is a lot slower than that of large brands like Zara, or MyTheresa. Capacity aside, demand for collaborative products is higher.

    “Recently, for our MyTheresa capsule, three pieces completely sold out in the first three days,” says Fang.

    Sales are not the immediate attraction of these types of partnerships for Fang, though.

    “We focus on the business side, but then there is also the creativity side and bringing our message out,” she says.

    “One of Zara’s biggest strengths is its connection to factories. It helped us create a flower that we wanted to make two years prior, but couldn’t because we didn’t know a manufacturer that could do that,” says Fang, explaining how the collaboration also provided a lesson in design, too. “We could create something different to what we usually do as a company.”

    Since the Zara capsule, launched to celebrate Lunar New Year in 2022, Fang’s business has grown steadily. But the rate at which requests for collaborations arrive has climbed.

    “These [co-branded collections] do help our marketing and sales. But at the same time, we do also have to be super selective, to not do too many collaborations, and work with people who share similar values to us,” she adds.

    In celebration of Lunar New Year 2022, Zara tapped Susan Fang for a capsule collection. Photo: Zara
    In celebration of Lunar New Year 2022, Zara tapped Susan Fang for a capsule collection. Photo: Zara

    Perfect bedfellows?#

    Despite designers such as Feng Chen Wang, Angel Chen, Shushu/Tong, and Susan Fang gaining recognition through these collaborative releases, the consensus is that creators should tread carefully when choosing which brands to work with.

    Paris-based avant-garde chic label out of Shanghai, Didu steers clear of mass collaborations as a business strategy.

    “While the right amount of collaboration can enhance a brand's reputation and provide economic stability, excessive collaboration can hinder sustainable growth for an independent brand,” says the designer.

    Since launching in 2019, Didu has collaborated only with MyTheresa — as part of the same dedicated China Designer Program 2023 that Fang has also been a part of alongside other exclusive collections by Jacques Wei and Xu Zhi — and Shanghai-based disruptive retailer ENG Concept, both on exclusive capsules. If a potential collaboration would not reach the desired target audience, expand the business, or deliver authentic expertise and storytelling, then it’s dismissed.

    Didu has 92,300 followers on Instagram, whereas Fang, which launched two years prior, is at 56,400. Though social media engagement does not equal success, Didu is excelling at sustaining a community without the assistance of mainstream collaborations.

    “Focus on creating quality designs, nurturing relationships, and engaging with your community to establish a strong and loyal following,” says Didu. Her fanbase includes the likes of American it-girl Julia Fox, popstar Doja Cat, and Katy Perry.

    For any designer, not just Chinese ones, wanting to establish a presence on the global fashion scene, collaboration is a tried-and-tested approach.

    Shushu/Tong x Asics launched in December 2022. Photo: Shushu/Tong x Asics
    Shushu/Tong x Asics launched in December 2022. Photo: Shushu/Tong x Asics

    Beyond China, too, London-based designers like Clarks’ recently appointed guest creative director Martine Rose, and Wales Bonner are examples of just how far collabs can turbocharge fame.

    The opportunity collaborations provide to expand product categories — see Feng Chen Wang x Estée Lauder or Angel Chen x Mac, for example — is a selling point for independent designers.

    Collaboration is helping independent fashion designers in China succeed in the industry, and in turn, shining the global spotlight on the mainland.

    For more analysis on the latest collaborations, sign up for the Collabs and Drops newsletter here.

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