When Samuel Yang learned that this year’s Shanghai Fashion Week was postponed, he was saddened but not surprised. As the founder and designer of his eponymous brand, which is known for blending Eastern and Western aesthetics, he needs to be cool-headed to make vital decisions quickly for the sake of his brand and his London-based team.
Shenzhen native Yang, who’s brand recently earned a coveted slot on the LVMH Prize shortlist this year, said his brand has grown alongside Shanghai Fashion Week. “[It] has become indispensable for our brand and our expansion…but all we can do now is respond with positivity and face the problem head on,” he told Jing Daily.
The COVID-19 crisis, which started in China in late January, has sent this year’s Fall Winter fashion season into turmoil. Under the pressure of government regulations on large public gatherings, Shanghai Fashion Week and Beijing-based China Fashion Week announced last month they will halt their runway shows and satellite trade events — reportedly affecting an ecosystem of thousands of homegrown brands.
The absence of physical shows is putting extra pressure on the designers. Known as “Asia’s largest ordering season for fashion,” Shanghai Fashion Week has long become an essential part of the itinerary for emerging Chinese designers like Yang to meet with international media and buyers, and showcase their voice to home and abroad. Meanwhile, since it was set up in 1997, China Fashion Week has helped over 800 brands to connect with local audiences. However, reactions to the outbreak from the two fashion weeks’ organizers have differed greatly.
While China Fashion Week has been put on hold indefinitely, the Shanghai Fashion Week Organizing Committee announced it will host a cloud show from March 24 to 30 with the e-tailer conglomerate, Tmall. While it’s yet to be seen whether the digital show will achieve the same effect as the offline event, as the only Chinese fashion week to go ahead this season Shanghai’s decisive decision illustrates not only the committee’s nimble response, but a clear commitment to Chinese fashion.
Jing Daily interviewed four Chinese designers that planned to launch their new collections in Shanghai: Samuel Gui Yang, Angel Chen, Shimo Zhou, and Une Yea. We also spoke to two designers showcasing in Beijing: Gioia Yi-Liang Pan and Wang Yutao. Among other things, they spoke about how the global pandemic upended not only their brands but their personal lives as well. However, despite the devastating impact of COVID-19 — from travel restrictions to supply chains and concerns over sales — designers have maintained a hopeful and positive attitude.
Shanghai Fashion Week
SAMUEL GUÌ YANG (Samuel Yang)
What is your fashion week plan and how important is China in this?
Although we are a Chinese designer brand, our traits are a bit different from local designers because we’re based in London. What we usually do is attend Paris Fashion Week to meet buyers and do a showroom and sales. Then we would go to Shanghai Fashion Week for the official collection launch with a runway or presentation followed by a showroom and store events.
Our team has witnessed the rise of the market in China and how Chinese consumers are becoming increasingly interested in independent designers with local traits. We have grown with that market. So at this point, Shanghai Fashion Week has become indispensable for our brand, our creative ideas and our target audience.
Where were you when the outbreak took place? And, how has it affected your brand?
Our team was in Paris launching our Fall Winter collection as the outbreak happened. We wanted to launch earlier this season considering our operation, production, and sales. It felt unreal when I heard the news. In February, we were going to fly to Shanghai to meet some buyers but because of this, all of our itinerary was cancelled. We’ve slowly felt the hit, but the impact on us is still relatively small compared to designers who are based in China.
What is your contingency plan now the physical show is no longer happening?
We have chosen another way to launch our collection. In fact, we started preparing a video campaign before the outbreak. We are still polishing it and are looking to release around the end of March. All we can do now is respond with positivity and face the problem head-on.
ANGEL CHEN (Angel Chen)
What was your original itinerary this season?
We were planning to show our new collection on the official schedule of Milan Fashion Week in February and at Shanghai Fashion Week in March. These are the two most important appointments for us every season. Fashion weeks in general represent a very strong platform to vocalise our creative vision, thoughts, and messages.
What were your thoughts as the outbreak in China reached crisis point? And, how has it affected your brand?
From the moment I grasped the magnitude of it all I had many different scenarios going through my head. But my first thought was about delays and disruption in terms of production. As most factories were closed until further notice everything became a bit uncertain given my collections are produced in China. Soon after this, travelling started to be an issue and I wasn’t able to attend the launch of Netflix’s Next in Fashion in US [Chen was a contestant in the hugely popular online fashion-based TV reality show]. I realised then how every single aspect of the business would be affected to the point when, as you know, everything stopped in China and it is now become a global problem.
I started to apply a positive and proactive approach to my brand and to think about all the many opportunities this hard situation could prompt, such as innovative ways to present our collections and strengthen our e-commerce by looking into ways to improve it, optimise our digital presence and so forth.
How do you think the delay or cancellation of industry events like fashion weeks are affecting Chinese designers like yourself?
I see difficulties but also opportunities lying at the heart of these challenging events. The fashion industry globally is not at its best at the moment, sales are dropping and it may take a few seasons to recover but I also can see that younger designers and brands are responding passionately. I want to focus on the positives and I think this will be the chance to bring some more innovation into the fashion industry.
Any future projects/collaborations to share with our readers?
These days my followers can participate in the #DragonPrincessChallenge launched on our social channels. Thanks to the Netflix show, we’ve received an unprecedented amount of support from all our fans and we want to show our international partners (retailers, media, etc.,) that we can still grow and succeed in difficult times.
STAFFONLY (Shimo Zhou, Une Yea)
What was your original plan regarding fashion weeks in China?
We’re part of Labelhood [an official showcasing platform for emerging designers] in Shanghai and that’s how we present our new collection each season. Shanghai Fashion Week is definitely the best way for us to present collections and communicate with our current audience and potential target new consumers each season.
Have the fashion week organizers offered any new or additional support?
Yes both Labelhood and our showroom, Tube, have supported us, helping us to show our collections online. This is not only in terms of promotion but also on the technical side.
How are Chinese designers affected by this and how are planning to cope?
Well, the effects are definitely not limited to Chinese designers but to the fashion industry worldwide. The delay or cancelation of events presents a set of new challenges, and we have to address it creatively by placing a focus on the sampling process and sales performance.
China Fashion Week
GIOIA PAN (Gioia Yi-Liang Pan)
What was your original plan regarding fashion weeks in China?
I participate in China Fashion Week every year as well as at fashion weeks in Shanghai and Shenzhen. For me, Beijing and Shanghai are the important ones as designers can attract more public attention, so I mainly launch my collections in these two cities.
How has the outbreak affected your brand so far?
Although Taiwan hasn’t been affected as much as the mainland, what’s behind the designs is a supply chain which is largely affected — many textile factories that we work closely with are based in Taiwan and on the mainland. The epidemic has closed down many factories and their production putting a strain on the whole industry. On a personal level, I usually travel a lot in between mainland China and Taiwan for events but now everything is on hold.
What is your contingency plan now the physical shows are no longer happening?
Since the postponement I have learned from other brands and adopted a digital approach, using strategies such as livestreaming to connect my online and offline customers. I’m also planning other promotional events and trying to keep the focus on the second half of the year.
Any thoughts to share with our readers?
I want to turn this from a crisis to an opportunity. Because the design and sampling part of the supply chain is usually carried out in Taipei, and now disrupted, I plan to focus on the creative part of running a brand for now. It is a reminder for the industry that we all need to be prepared for the worst scenario.
BEAUTYBERRY (Wang Yutao)
What was your original plan this season, and what does it mean to you?
I’ve been participating in China Fashion Week since 2003 and I planned to show my brand Beautyberry’s 2020 Fall Winter Collection there this season. It’s important to me in many ways: I can show my next collection and promote it to fashion media and buyers but it’s also a good time to connect with friends, clients, PRs and suppliers.
What were your thoughts as the outbreak in China became a crisis?
The outbreak happened when everyone in China was supposed to come together to celebrate Chinese New Year, but there was no one on the street, shopping malls were shut, the places that used to be crowded were empty.
But China has been very strong in the face of COVID-19 — be it government officials or medical staff. Citizens made a concerted effort to fight it and I think the virus is now under control in China. There are less and less new cases, which means we are getting back to normal. It’s like we’ve gone through a long holiday and I have used the time to plan my and the brand’s future.
How have the delay or cancellation of industry events like fashion weeks affected you?
It’s having a huge impact because many designers rely on seasonal proceeds for the next season’s business operation. Our offline sales volume for Spring/Summer 2020 has barely reached 10% of our goal while the supply chain hasn’t returned to normal yet. We were hoping to get orders from industry events such as China Fashion Week but it’s impossible to acquire new clients under this climate.
Now that the physical shows in Beijing no longer seem to be going ahead, what is your contingency plan? What about Shanghai?
I think people’s priority lies in healthcare after this crisis passes, not fashion, so we will adjust the launch plan of our new collection to focus on promoting single pieces through online channels. I don’t plan to be on Shanghai’s cloud show at such a short notice because I want to focus on what we work on now.