Luxury brands have long been releasing their one-off Zodiac-themed collections targeted at the Chinese market during the Spring Festival shopping season, but in many cases, the designs simply don’t click with consumers. This year, Chinese blogger and handbag guru Mr. Bags teamed up with Scotland-based label Strathberry to create a capsule collection for his followers that he knew they would love.
Mr. Bags, whose real name is Tao Liang, visited Strathberry’s factories in Spain to work with the artisans, ultimately coming up with an exclusive series of pink handbags, called “Sweet Pink Fantasy,” which feature interchangeable red leather bag tags with illustrated characters. Tao said his goal was to “create designs that can really appeal to youthful female shoppers, creating a whimsical dream come true.”
“I reached out to the brand, and we just sat down and talked about what kind of colors and bags Chinese consumers love, and then we came up with the idea that maybe we could work on a collaboration exclusively for my followers,” Tao said. “I figured that a lot of Chinese people love exclusive collections instead of normal, classic colors right now.”
Each tag boasts its own hand-drawn cartoon featuring a different symbol inspired by Chinese New Year. There is a panda, which Tao said represented China, and there is a crown that represents Chinese women who are increasingly becoming “independent” (“a lot of them regard themselves as queens,” Tao said.) The meditating monk tag, Tao said, was created so that “guys can send this bag to their girlfriends to show they’re only thinking about them.” The only rooster symbol in this series is in the form of a tiny chick. “We think the little chick is more stylish and very young,” Tao said.
Some brands have been drawing criticism on social media for their rooster-related Chinese New Year products because according to some consumers, the designs remind them of something their parents or grandparents would buy or look like shanzhai (copycat) luxury goods.
Tao himself is known on WeChat and Weibo for his outspoken opinions of luxury bags, including designs chosen for Chinese New Year collections. He said that in his experience, shoppers tend to gravitate toward designs that are youthful and versatile—in other words, they contain elements of the festival, but can be worn all year round. He named the Tod’s and Moynat collections as ones that particularly resonated well with him because Tod’s chose to replace rooster imagery with general symbols of luck and prosperity, while Moynat launched charms depicting illustrated roosters in sunglasses that had a “very cool attitude.”
“So many brands designed special items with monkey elements,” he said. “Fewer designed special items for the Year of the Rooster. I do not see a significant improvement in terms of those special designs for the New Year. For most brands, putting a rooster symbol on their classic designs might be the most simple thing to do.”
“If a brand really wants to win Chinese consumers’ hearts, it needs to think of more creative approaches to attract Chinese consumers’ attention and to really think about how Chinese consumers would think of the products,” he continued. “I think the success of the Mr. Bags x Strathberry collection, which completely sold out in three hours, is due to the fact that we really want to bring happiness to consumers and we really want to focus on the designs that target all sorts of ways to help consumers’ pursuit of happiness.”
According to Tao, he and Strathberry reached out to each other at almost exactly the same time, and not only did they work on the Spring Festival capsule collection, but they collaborated on the entire Spring/Summer 2017 collection, which includes around 500 bags, from nano styles for women, to oversized men’s totes. The men’s collection was Strathberry’s first, and Tao said his influence played a big role.
While Tao has acted as a KOL for luxury handbag brands in China in the past, this is his first major collaboration with an international high-end label. He hints there will be more such projects in the near future, and there’s a chance that other bloggers could follow suit.