With China expected to hit one billion mobile connections by May of this year, domestic social media platforms like Sina Weibo boasting more than 250 million users, and retail sales in the fashion and luxury segments maintaining strong double-digit growth, brands are looking more than ever at how best to create buzz among China's coveted -- and digitally savvy -- 20-35 age bracket. Recently, leveraging her passions for and knowledge of fashion, technology and the China market, model and founder of 360Fashion, Anina and 360Fashion launched a localized, Chinese-language "Social News" app to help fashion labels and emerging brands do just that.
Pre-loaded on every Meego Nokia N9 sold in China, the app brings Chinese fashion lovers key news from the global fashion industry, while its close integration with Chinese social media platforms allows them to share photos and news with friends natively within the app. Currently, the app spotlights collections from the likes of Hong Kong's Dorian Ho, up-and-coming designers like Pam Hogg (UK), and established fashion brands like Y3. Along with a slew of photos, the app includes Chinese-language information and news about each designer or brand, and lets users see more conversations taking place on Sina Weibo. This integration takes on one of the biggest obstacles faced by brands looking to tap consumer spending in China: too much noise in the industry. As Anina puts it, "The fashion conversation is currently scattered in China, and our app helps readers quickly find out what is the buzz around these new fashion brands." With the app, she adds, "fashion trendsetters have the first view at the tip of their fingers without having to search for the conversation around the web."
Though the app is currently loaded on Meego N9s, last week Anina told the Asian tech blog Penn-Olson that she plans to extend the Chinese version of the app to Windows Phone 7 (WP7) later this year, after Nokia phones running MP7 go on sale in China. The application is currently available in Traditional/Simplified Chinese, French, and English, with the Chinese version integrated with Sina Weibo and the French and English versions integrated with Facebook and Twitter.
As Anina told Jing Daily this week, the main motivation for 360Fashion's Social News app is to help consumers stay plugged in to important news, discover designers and collections that are either new or new to them, and to help brands build lucrative buzz in the China market. By testing out the response to their new collections among users, brands can better prepare their China roll-outs ahead of time, or even test the waters to see if the time is right to enter the China market at all. Said Anina, "The biggest mistake in fashion is that brands do not prepare well enough in advance with press, online press, social media, and mobile [platforms] before they even set foot into China."
Added Anina, the Chinese consumer shops like this: First they look into what others are saying about a given brand, and check to see if it's "cool" on social media networks. Then the shopper reads news about the brand. If both are positive, and reception among their peer group is good, they'll definitely go into a store or buy online. In the next update of the Chinese-language 360Fashion Social News app, mapping will be added to let brands direct customers to their local stores.
One of the key advantages of the app, particularly from the industry side, is that it features in-season collections. Unlike many online or print publications that feature upcoming collections, shoppers can browse winter collections during the winter season, for example. This is a benefit for emerging brands, particularly from the intellectual property standpoint. As Anina notes, many outlets expose fashion brands' new collections before the selling period is finished and the clothing has gone into production, which "weakens them in the BRIC markets because their designs can be copied." Though users can zoom in to look at design features of new collections, photos can't be saved, only browsed and discussed via social media.
From the standpoint of Western brands, the app is useful to take help gain competitive advantage in the China market by learning more about the designs, color schemes and tastes of domestic Chinese fashion designers. This is a niche that Anina says is important for international brands to crack. There are few platforms now, particularly in the mobile space, actively scouting for the best young Chinese designers and giving them a means to interact with future customers. (While also providing helpful clues for bigger brands.)
"Also," Anina points out, the app helps young designers "take advantage of the emerging upper class, who is evolving and looking for unknown brands, so they can one-up their nouveau-riche friends."
"By creating a platform for young designers to gain exposure, we can help the industry grow from the long tail side."
The Social News app with look books is available for Meego Nokia N9s in China. Without the look books, the news app is currently available for Android, Blackberry, or iPhone and iPad. Stay up to date on 360Fashion via Twitter or Weibo.