Many Chinese designers choose to take part in the revolution of fashion, upgrading the “Made In China” tag by integrating it literally into their collections. Is the next chapter in the brand(ing) story? New York-based China fashion aficionada Jessica Laiter offers her opinions and ponders the inevitable… How does one move a fashion label onwards and upwards?
Although certain styles come back to entertain (and, at times, “haunt”) us about every 10 years or so, we indulge in the romance of this cyclical occurrence through the re-purposing of old styles executed by new designers.
Fashion is making way into new corners of the world, spreading its lively tentacles into undiscovered corners. Fashion… Is on the move. Perpetually in motion, always evolving, the real wringer becomes:
What drives the movement itself?
China China China
Broken record? Nope. I mean what I say and I say what I mean. Just think how globalization has provided the creative commune with a perpetual incentive for students, artists, entrepreneurs, scientists , and other talented individuals to study abroad with ease, to immerse themselves in alternative cultures, and to climb the international ladder of success.
Not to mention, it provides emerging markets with opulent opportunity to sing their unheard prose and praise.
So, one more time for the cheap(er) seats in the back: China!
Many would not view China as emerging. She is wide awake, given the country’s financial and economic successes in and impact on global business. Yet once again, we only speak of the moolah market.
Why don’t we talk about China’s creative players for a change?
As of late, core Covid-19 induced shifts in the business model surrounding fashion week, from the physical to the digital realm, alterations in product distribution methods such as the “See Now, Buy Now” model and “interference” from social media, are all having their own noticeable repercussions on the global fashion market.
How does that saying go, again? One person’s trash is another person’s treasure? Not to say “fashion week” is metaphorical “trash”, but the truth of the matter is that emerging designers are filling in the gaps left wide open by industry old-timers who in turn are finding new routes to maneuver their place in the future fashion industry.
With the eyes laser-focused on the sheer volume of Chinese designers taking up seat after seat around fashion week tables, we can’t help but wonder… What does this shift imply for the future of our beloved fashion world and what, in the name of Chanel and Chictopia, do Chinese designers have to do with it?
Divinity in Motion
From China to New York City to northern Europe, a massive flood of people are entering the international market as budding designers brimming with big dreams and simultaneously overwhelming the industry with fresh and innovative products from all over the world.
Fashion in China has taken off, but as of yet it still remains a (far) cry from being an industry of primary importance. Nonetheless, since many European and American designers have started (in non-social-distancing times) to distance themselves from official fashion week schedules and are choosing to host their shows at alternative venues, plenty of space has opened up for newer designers who, mere months ago, could only dream of performing at such a high-profile event.
If you know the song, just sing – or hummm — along! China. Fashion. China. Fashion.
How do we welcome these China-made designers with open arms, when we still hold such intense prejudice against that conspicuous and infamous Made In China label? What is it about this particular title that gets people all squirmy and uncomfortable, riled up even? Whereas we are certainly well aware of ye staple fears regarding low quality and fake products, in the optimistic spirit of the future, we do still think it’s worth taking a second look.
The apprehension of American and European consumers to purchase goods from Chinese designers in this humble opinion simply stems from a lack of access to the China market in general.
For designers to enter foreign markets alone, without a helping hand, is near impossible. Not that we lack faith in the designers’ intelligence or business-savvy ways; it’s mainly the fact that selling to a market outside of the domestic domain requires more than simply savvy methodologies. This is one undertaking that requires patience, acute comprehension of the target culture , and a willingness to adapt.
Therefore, “All by myself” (once more, please do sing along) is one option that doesn’t fly; not in the pursuit of optimal success, at least. It’s with a little help from your intermediary consultant friends and online KOLs that this type of transition is turned into a surmountable feat.
Building an Empire
Dreams, no matter what type, are the best form of nourishment. One must, however, by no means ignore the urge to play Devil’s advocate and in such fashion, we ask… Are these dreams of China-made designers finding big international success wildly unrealistic? Over the past number of years, we’ve witnessed a surge in Chinese designers graduating from prestigious design schools, interning at established luxury brands , and launching their eponymous labels.
Nonetheless, aside from a twinkling interest in China’s new talent (some of which still need their seedlings to sprout in order for their brands to mature) from industry aficionados, a number of obstacles lies ahead, waiting to pounce at the very moment things seem too easy or hopeful. This includes finding a creative niche for the intended market and getting accurate exposure in foreign countries.
Temper spoke with New York-based Chinese fashion entrepreneur Vera Wang of WG Empire. The intention? Bridging gaps between Chinese and American brands, as well as eliminating cultural barriers that continue to prevent foreign market penetration. WG Empire provides its clients with the necessary resources and proper localized marketing strategies to effectively introduce and sell products in the target market. The concept is so simple, yet the task at hand proves overwhelming – to the point where many companies are trying but failing.
WG Empire is more than just a global PR company; it is a team of interpreters and creators. Given that the company is based in New York City, but has its roots grounded in China, the team is well -versed in both Chinese and American business practices and cultures. They appeal to the target consumer in a clear and accessible way, appropriately “peacocking” the consumer and vying for their attention.
When it comes to helping brands traverse the rocky terrain into the great unknown, having just a PR company on your side is only the beginning. Let’s welcome to the conversation that big three-letter word everyone is and has been buzzing about for the past decade: KOL – that stands for “Key Opinion Leader”, in case you were still wondering anno 2020. From Sina Weibo to Little Red Book to Douyin, and Bili Bili:
They were, are, and remain your friends.
The Opinionated Topic
We know, we know. For many a layman, the question beckons still… What the deuce is a KOL? You may better know them as bloggers and/or media influencers. They are some of the leading forces in the world of brand marketing. They are modern-day sales representatives and brands are eagerly collaborating with them day and night, as a method to push their product in the most integrative ways possible.
Decorating the World Wide Web with their collages of high fashion photography, traveling escapades, and other indulgences, they communicate to consumers from all over the world. Whether you’re pro or con, the purchasing power of influencers stretches well beyond what you can even imagine because now brands have found a voice as audiences are actively listening to and relying on their every word of “sound fashion judgment”.
They are real people leading lives to which people aspire and everyone wants what they have. KOLs have within one decade become the new billboards, except for the fact they are living, breathing , and influencing.
Aside from the need for KOL assistance, according to WG Empire, there is one other major obstacle for those Chinese designers who struggle to enter the American markets, namely the inaccessibility to Western social media from within the borders of the Middle Kingdom (which makes connecting with those bloggers a little more difficult, yet ever so very desirable).
With the help of Western influencers, Chinese designers are able to introduce their brands to markets with never-before-held access to products from emerging markets, designers , and artists.
About Stigmata and Baptisms
No blasphemy intended. One of the bigger hurdles faced by Chinese designers, as previously mentioned, is the stigma behind that “Made In China” brand. There are many designers choosing to be a part of the revolutionizing conversation, in unashamed and unabashed manner. What’s more, they are actually adding value to the “Made In China” tag by integrating it literally (see Feng Chen Wang SS18 below) and figuratively into their collections.
By contrast, there are many designers who feel just as strongly about distancing themselves from the “Made In China” story as a way to better internationalize themselves and pave the distance between China and themselves. Many even refuse to baptize their brands with a Chinese name in a bid to further westernize and to avoid any association with the low-grade reputation China has built for itself in terms of production.
The question now becomes… Why is conformity always the path of choice? People are generally uncomfortable with the unfamiliar; conformity not only feeds these insecuritiesbut also hinders brands from realizing their true potential. The thirst for integration is muddying down the inherent nature of their brands. This gal’s two cents? Make “Chinese” familiar. Go ahead, just do it! ( Pun most definitely intended.)
Then, when something great does come about, it won’t seem quite so tacky or catastrophic to know that it came from the great unknown.
An even more pressing final question is, do these selected designers abandon originality and cultural influences due to the heavy burden of financial responsibility? Does their creativity bow to cash — as it is what makes the world go round, no? The struggle is real, yet some designers have managed to solve the big bad mystery by taking an integrative approach to their marketing model.
According to WG Empire, they build two different production lines: 1) a creative line, selling their innovative design work, and 2) a commercial line, operating more profitable products. This model is the perfect answer to the major barrier standing between creative impulse and monetary obligation.
Despite the many obvious benefits of a brand showcasing seasonal collections at fashion shows across New York and Europe, they come with a hefty price tag, and without the sponsorship from larger investors or collaborative companies, an emerging designer is going to struggle with expenses.
The adventure is more expensive than most can afford, at times steering them in a “safe” direction, rather than one with a little risk attached.
Fact: Fashion is on the move. Fact: Fashion is making way into new corners of the world, spreading its lively tentacles into undiscovered corners. Fact: With the emergence of new markets, new talents, new circumstances, and so the newbie list goes on, the evolution of the fashion industry is one of unstoppable and irresistible power.
Revolution is always risky business; that’s a chance you just gotta take.
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