Learnings from Shanghai Fashion Week

Key Takeaways:

  • Sustainability lay at the heart of this season’s programing. This was seen in material intervention and fabric development, circularity, and upstream trade business promotion.
  • Emerging designers were a key focus of Autumn 2021’s schedule. Showing on platforms purpose-built to nurture and support new talent, many of these are now coming of age just as domestic support mushrooms.

  • The committee has continued to trial B2C initiatives. It leveraged two of China’s best known livestreamers Li Jiaqi and Viya who achieved combined views of over 30 million.

For the last three seasons, the global fashion industry was left with no choice but to rethink its long-established systems and hierarchies. In an unprecedented period of trial and experimentation, fashion weeks floundered as they looked around to see what other councils were doing. 

During this time, Shanghai Fashion Week only looked ahead. It watched the market, reacting and making adjustments not only top down but also bottom up. Despite COVID-19, China’s luxury market is now poised to grow alongside the national economy and, this season, that graft has come to fruition. 

As Western fashion capitals inch out of lockdown towards a new normal,” Shanghai Fashion Week echoes the same joined-up thinking at state level that is driving the country’s nationwide recovery. Its remarkable ability to expand during this time gives an insight into China’s future fashion sector long-term, offering a petri dish for analysts and fans alike to observe. 

Under China’s newest 14th Five-Year Plan, the state has been vigorously promoting the development of green, safe consumption. Shanghai recently announced plans to increase the city’s tourism budget to encourage domestic travel and, therefore, spending. “Our confidence comes from the current development of the national economy. This is a major opportunity for growth, but also a new challenge,” Madame Lv, General Secretary of Shanghai Fashion Week Organizing Committee told Jing Daily. 

It is now reaping the rewards of a consolidated strategy. In line with this, fashion week has been cultivating new consumption models. Autumn 2021 ushered in a new professionalism to the promotion of sustainable fashion; livestreaming, already second nature to a mobile-first nation, has reached new stages of advancement. Meanwhile, the addition of domestic names like Comme Moi, helmed by exsupermodel Lü Yan, means it is now increasing its relevance for mid-size local players. 

This season, Jing Daily looks at this multifaceted approach that balanced the integration of emerging designers with B2C initiatives, as well as embedding the growing importance of sustainability and upstream models. 

The coming of age of emerging designers 

Given its proximity to supply chains and knowledge development, the re-emergence of design excellence in China’s fashion sector was always inevitable. As Lv confirmed, the promotion of local designers lies at the heart of the event and, since 2015, it has implemented a dedicated system for the incubation and support of young emerging designers

Now, these designers are coming of age just as domestic support has mushroomed. Chinese audiences are seeking fashion that can better represent their interests. As opposed to struggling during COVID-19, young designers reported stable if not growing sales further helped by repatriated spending. 

 “The opportunity lies in the fact that, in this special period, the attention of Chinese consumers has turned to domestic original design brands,” Lv observed. While cautious (“the current market share of designer brands is not large yet”), she confirmed: “We think in the near future it will grow rapidly.” 

Ponder.er, a Hong Kong and London-based label, made its Shanghai Fashion Week debut this season. Photo: Courtesy of SHFW

The hashtag #cheeronChinesedesigners has been viewed 4.82 million times. Names like Shuting Qui and Rui are popping up on global shortlists like the prestigious LVMH prize; Feng Chen Wang, 8ON8, Angel Chen, and Pronounce have all released collaborations with global brands this year. Data shows sales were up this season and so too was quality, as collections and even runway shows stepped up a gear.

Jillian Xin, Buying Director at Labelhood, enthused: “We saw some of the strongest collections we’ve ever had from designers this season… and some amazing debuts such as from Louis Shengtao Chen. It feels totally disconnected from everything else going on in the world…in a positive way.” 

Livestreaming steps up a gear to unlock vast B2C opportunities

In the context of China’s rapid economic, social, cultural, and digital development, the demands of increasingly conscious consumers can often overwhelm smaller brands in the long run. In an effort to reach the general public, the event has introduced a cross-platform sales model that enables companies to sell directly. In a savvy move, organizers tapped two of China’s best known livestreamers for the Shanghai Fashion & Lifestyle Carnival. 

A live broadcast from Li Jiaqi x Labelhood drew three to 10 million views across two hours. Designers like Ming Ma, Swaying, and Mayali offered hundreds of products to watchers. Though Li fielded some negative comments which underlined the fact that “emerging designers” are still a new concept to some, his fame ensured the public’s trust. Sales were also boosted by appearances from designers Gong Li and Guo Yirantian.   

Li Jiaqi prepares for a livestream at Shanghai Fashion Week. Photo: Courtesy of SHFW

Viya ()’s event fared even better. Alongside personality Han Huohuo, this five hour livestream blurred the boundary between a fashion week event and live broadcast for established independent designers such as Masha Ma and Haizhen Wang. It attracted 20.45 million viewers, sold over 1.6 million garments and generated more than $50 million sales revenue with 15 designer collaboration products. 

Allowing audiences to be virtually present at the show — and take part in an immersive shopping experience — without leaving home created a closer interaction between brand and audience. As did face-to-face communication with designers like Ma, who used this to amplify her reach. 

Demystification of supply chain and integration of upstream   

The necessity of upstream integration is key to China’s future fashion landscape. According to media personality Cui Dan, the domestic front-end supply is already very advanced thanks to the interaction with foreign customers but there are “still many gaps in China’s own supply chain, especially in the post-epidemic era.”

Through the programming of exhibitions, knowledge sharing, events and forums, the committee’s message is clear: it’s time to close the loop through connecting green manufacturing with SMEs. Mr. Jin, CEO of Le Dumco, which provides renewable, biodegradable, or less energy consuming fabrics, is among those who place great importance on cooperation with independent designers. 

The Mode Shanghai trade show puts a focus on sustainability with the “Fashion in Circulation” exhibition. Photo: Courtesy of SHFW

“Designers may not have an in-depth understanding of environmentally friendly fabrics but they have ideas about the texture for example. We can use technical means to solve these problems,” said Jin, flagging Dumco’s customized sustainable fabric made of Tencel Spandex and recycled polyester.  

The sheer effect of the Ulio SPACE platform at the official MODE trade show was striking for sustainability advocate and waste upcycler, Vincent Djen. Featuring manufacturing names like Dupont Sorona®, Sateri, and KANE TOP, Djen said: “It showcases both sustainable fashion brands, materials, and digital technology, so it feels like you are stepping into the future of fashion.”

Designers, including Susan Fang, Shuting Qui, PH5 and Shie Lyu, showcased expressions of sustainable development issues. Ciu, co-curator of the Ulio Space, continued: “I believe that designers and brands will also bring different perspectives to the supply chain and the platforms in terms of market-oriented operations, and it will only make sense by combining the two.”

Shie Lyu takes a zero-waste approach to her Spring 2021 collection, using flawed industrial materials, leftovers from previous projects, and unwanted rubber tubes from Parsons’ studio. Photo: Courtesy of SHFW

Meanwhile, Yueling Hu, consultant and co-organizer of the Ulio Space, highlighted the systemic approach which underpins much of the fashion week’s strategy. “We have B2B brands… But, as the space was open to the public, we also engaged consumers who are still trying to understand this concept. It really needs the whole value chain to work together and understand it but, when the trend is fully here, we will be ready.” 

 An overriding emphasis on sustainability 

Sustainability lay at the heart of this season’s push — embedding itself in every aspect of the entire supply chain from ideation to consumption. Though ambitious, the wholesale adoption of this would have a substantial impact on the green recovery of the country.

Madame Lv explained that the tradeshow explosion illustrates how well young names addressed inventory waste. “After six years of hard work, multi-brand stores and designer brands across China have flourished. Now, we believe that the most important thing is to have the right direction, hence, we are currently promoting designers to use sustainable fabrics,” she stated.  

Recommended ReadingHow Can Fashion Fix Its Sustainability Disconnect?By Yaling Jiang

The need to be sustainable was foreseen many years ago by independent designer Zhang Na. Back then she was a lone wolf. Now, after a decade, her Reclothing Bank is one of many working to close the loop on recycle-remake-sale-repay. At the opposite end, Shanghai Shupu Technology focuses on industry application solutions for AI machines, human digitization, and other technology products such as the smart mirrors seen in the MODE exhibition. 

Though vaccines are on the way, and countries are tentatively opening up, the West is still struggling to move past this outbreak. The recovery will not be quick. Some luxury brands are eyeing Shanghai’s privileged position: Dior leveraged the event last week to debut Pre-Fall 2021.

Though not perfect, this diligent fashion week has kept its head down and, by foregrounding sustainability, it shows the industry where China’s attention lies. Furthermore, its innovation in breakthrough models goes hand in hand with consumer integration, so often counterintuitively sidelined by Western fashion weeks. In Shanghai Fashion Week, we see glimpses of the future.