Insider Tang Shuang on China’s Fashion Media

Fashion critic Tang Shuang is the next creative to be highlighted as part of the Jing Daily community of individuals who have helped build China’s booming fashion industry. This section profiles industry leaders who contribute to the national and global fashion communities, from consumers and behind-the-scenes employees to business executives and influencers.

Writer Tang Shuang’s razor-sharp wit has been inspiring China’s fashion enthusiasts for over a decade and has earned her a social following of 455,000 on Weibo. Since the start of her media career, Tang has not missed a step by delivering her unique take from fashion’s ringside, making her China’s answer to fashion critic Suzy Menkes in the process.

Tang, who cut her teeth at the media company Modern Weekly in 2008, started her career as an assistant fashion editor despite a lack of fashion experience. But she caught on quickly and, over the next five years, was promoted to associate — and then feature — editor after moving from The Outlook Magazine to Numero Magazine China.

During that time, she also founded a now-defunct multi-brand concept store called The Backroom and contributed to Chinese versions of the New York Times and the Business of Fashion. After short tenures as editor-in-chief at Instyle China and deputy publisher at Vogue China, Tang launched “The Future Of Chinese Fashion”: an ongoing video series that sheds light on China’s homegrown fashion industry.

The three installments investigate the boom in Chinese designer brands while demystifying extensive supply chains to audiences. Altogether, they have garnered nearly 1 million combined views since its October premiere.

Given this media veteran’s extensive engagement in China’s evolving fashion industry, Jing Daily spoke to Tang about the fashion publishing business in China, its future, and what’s coming up on her horizon.

What motivated you to pursue a career in fashion media?

When I was an undergraduate student, I was drawn to French culture, especially literature and film — but not much to fashion. Then I started my position in the “Living” category at Modern Weekly, which is a mix of [covering] lifestyle and fashion. Those years were a golden age for media in China, and I worked with a number of talents I benefited from.

Back then, I did everything from styling to writing, as there was a lack of feature editors. On the other hand, I appreciated the opportunities I got to interview various creatives and leaned towards pitching and writing feature stories.

How would you define your role in the fashion industry?

Since I started in the industry, I have seen myself as an independent fashion critic. I became known more as a media professional, despite my other roles like store owner or brand consultant. But I have been writing continuously, whether for magazines or my channels on WeChat and Weibo.

Continuous leadership shake-ups are disrupting China’s fashion magazine industry. What do these shifts indicate about the future of the sector?

This shift did not happen overnight; instead, the symptoms of leadership turbulence emerged a while ago. The overall digitalization of the media industry in China is irreversible as printed publications there lack loyal readers. In the new media era, business development roles are necessary for bringing in advertising opportunities. Meanwhile, the power dynamic between local teams and their publishing headquarters abroad is constantly changing.

The most noticeable move in China’s digitalization is that audiences show stronger reading preferences on mobile platforms than in the West. However, I don’t think the current digital content in Chinese fashion magazines can replace the traditional ones, other than higher-resolution photos, which hints at a substantial dilemma of local fashion magazines. They are not pushing any boundaries or curating consistent content between printed and digital publications. To be honest, I haven’t seen many changes in the way editors pitch features since I entered the sector. Yet, this shift has been connected to the survival of independent fashion magazines in China.

Photo: Tang Shuang’s Weibo

The capabilities of fashion media extend beyond publishing. How are collaborations like think tanks or creative agencies shaping the industry?

They are not novel things. When I was at Modern Weekly in the late 2000s, there was a client-service chain. The main shift I see is a need for a magazine’s higher capability of creativity and production in collaborations since content today is launched not only in magazines but also on brand channels [previously, print production was only published in magazines.] So the quality of production should be aligned with digital campaigns, meaning they must be good at video-making, shooting, and copywriting.

As the pioneers of fashion publishing leave their positions, do you think the young generations can take over, or is this creating a gap? 

I wouldn’t say it is a gap. As privileges from media titles continue to dissolve, the era of spotlighting an editor-in-chief in fashion media may become past tense. It is unfair to say that today’s younger talents are inadequate. Because the job is changing, the focus is now on the functionality of editorial navigation. So the public may not know who has taken the helm.

Why was “The Future Of Chinese Fashion” made as a video and not, say, a series of written articles? 

I think video can tell stories better and engage audiences more fully. Plus, it is also an overwhelming trend in today’s social media. But also, fashion-related video content in China lacks variety and diversity, so that motivated me to re-navigate words into images. I actually wanted to kick off the project when I was working for Vogue China. It is a scene I have been following and exploring for a few years.

In terms of scope and distribution, how would you compare articles to videos? And how has the reception of your documentary videos been thus far?

Articles can be distributed and reposted in a relatively short timeframe, while videos, especially medium-to-long ones, require more time to reach audiences. Articles usually convey sharper arguments, which can garner immediate attention and spark conversations online, whereas videos are more neutral and showcase facts or incorporate various perspectives.

Comments from insiders and netizens have generally been positive thus far. I have built up a bunch of loyal viewers who are familiar with my writing style. Their only concern is my update frequency, as it takes a lot of effort to put interview and research materials together.

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Creatives, Fashion, Industry Profiles