Subcontractor-to-Design House NE·TIGER Goes International With Traditional Chinese Styles
As Chinese designers struggle to gain credibility in both their domestic and global fashion industries, one high-profile buyer has taken interest: a member of the Saudi royal family.
According to a recent China Daily report, a Saudi princess has ordered a dress from Chinese designer NE·TIGER after seeing one of the label’s designs in an exhibition in Riyadh in April. The made-to-measure luxury gown will reportedly be blue “with golden dragon embroidery,” and will be constructed by three designers sent to Riyadh.
The article cites this royal purchase as an evidence of a gradual increase in the popularity of Chinese designers, stating that NE·TIGER and other Chinese high-end brands are seeing their profits slowly rise.
The evolution of NE·TIGER’s business model from manufacturing to design serves as a microcosm of the rise of creativity and design in China as a whole. According to the article, the company was started two decades ago with a focus on manufacturing and exporting clothes, but later began designing its own dresses and holding runway shows.
At the moment, the company still relies on manufacturing for the majority of its business, as it exports about 20,000 subcontracted garments a year, compared to the 2,000 dresses it produces under its own label. In-house manufacturing capabilities are valuable to businesses branching out into design, according to the article.
However, China Daily also notes that brands with manufacturing backgrounds struggle to become design leaders. “Chinese fashion brands know manufacturing,” said Shen Dongri, chairman of a Chinese clothes manufacturer, “but their design capabilities are still too limited, although we try to integrate Chinese culture into the design.”
Like other high-end Chinese designers such as Guo Pei, NE·TIGER’s designs feature traditional Chinese elements and tailoring to provide the label with a sense of local heritage. Lead designer Zhang Zhifeng is known for his views of the rise of Chinese design as a matter of national pride, having previously stated that foreign luxury brands “come [to China] to invade cities and to occupy the land, to grab the market and to pan for gold in our prosperity.” As his creations gain more international attention, he is likely happy that his Saudi Arabian customers don’t feel the same way about buying from a Chinese designer.