Covid-19 is pushing digital boundaries across pro pastures, fashion included. Take Shanghai Cloud Fashion Week AW20 (24-30 March), for example. Many a question regarding this event’s frame and function, though, lingers. Was this a glocal or local endeavor? And… Was it an affair to remember?
For this, shall we say, “case study”, we zoom in on firm Temper favorite Labelhood, your No.1 Chinese designer incubator both on- and offline.
This platform, too, moved its standard Shanghai Fashion Week (SFW) physical show shenanigans onto the digital Tmall live-stream stage, giving brands the strategical choice of “selling or branding”.
Did viewer numbers transfer into sales numbers? How many press peeps took part? How did the rather “ambiguous” guidelines affect numbers? Is all this even measurable? In sum…
Is going digital fashion week’s new augmented reality?
With the Temper need for digital speed, we have Kain Picken and Fiona Lau of Shanghai-based FFIXXED Studios putting in their two mao on the Labelhood Live undertaking — which they starred in on 28 March.
SFW teamed up with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s online marketplace Tmall to broadcast the week’s label line-up on Taobao Live, Alibaba’s live-streaming channel.
Labelhood, in turn, assigned brands a three-minute promotional slot followed by a 50-minute live-streaming session from its own Tmall channel to present their body of work to buyers, media and the general public through digital innovation in the face of (almost worldwide) coronavirus lock-down. As well as to sell off their SS20 stock.
Tmall is, according to reports, the biggest marketplace for businesses that live-stream, this includes small to big labels. There are 400 virtual shopping rooms which roughly achieve monthly sales of USD$57 million.
Lau: “China’s online eco-system is just so integrated into daily life here. That type of social (media) synthesis does not apply to other countries. Platforms such as Tmall are, for lack of a better word, ‘insane’ and people use them on a day-to-day basis. With a big coronavirus-induced lull in sales plus overall fashion manufacturing (among other facets) disruptance, SFW taking to the Cloud gave brands the opportunity to add a little pizzazz to their Tmall stores and use the live-stream to promote their SS20 sales. Thus getting rid of that excess stock.”
On the face of it, Tmall is one powerful partner to team up with for fashion’s in-crowd.
About That Frame of Reference
That said, viewer numbers ranged from the eventual 12k for FFIXXED Studios to 5k for Cornerstone by Sun Yun, Of course, this was a first, honorable, attempt to digitalize a Fashion Week completely so it remains to be seen what the real outcomes are, mainly financially. Nevertheless… As one must crawl before one walks: How about we first adjust our frame of reference?
Lau: “As the main lifeline was Tmall, we must all understand that this SFW in the Cloud undertaking was very much directed at the local market. Supporting local retailers. Getting things moving again on a local level. Labelhood wanted to help local Chinese designers get rid of their excess stock, as I mentioned before already. The underlying thought was not ‘this is the future of fashion’, but rather ‘this is a highly specific situation’. And maybe elements of this can contribute to the future.”
Many designers were left sitting in their studios with unfinished collections due to factories closing down when corona hit China’s fan. These guys had simply no way of putting on a full-fledged AW20 show and thus attempted to employ this live-stream in a bid to rid themselves of SS20 stock.
Picken: “Indeed, this was not about revolutionizing Fashion Week. For any brand, the rule applies that if the stock does not go away, the overall cycle gets disrupted. Moreover, Labelhood wanted to give local designers a way to present at the very least something due to cancelations; a much more flexible platform that your usual runway show, even.”
About That Function: Viewer versus Sales Numbers
In terms of viewer numbers, 12k for FFIXXED is massive, as this is still a fairly small brand, Though the real question is: did those 12k transfer into sales numbers? Did they purchase? What was the live-stream function?
Lau: “We didn’t have that many sales, but overall we are pretty happy with that viewer number. In the bigger scheme of things, 12k might appear negligible, but when looking at things within the niche framework… Pretty good!”
A 12k viewer number is indeed far more than the 250 peeps alongside a traditional runway. And, just to reiterate, ’tis indeed better than doing nothing.
Lau: “Labelhood left everything open to designers and, in terms of approach, some opted for the more traditional take on things, issuing coupons, etc. Other brands, ours included, treated this more like a branding exercise, putting less emphasis on driving sales and more on representing the brand. The brands got the opportunity to reach out to end-consumers.”
Hyping the end-consumer, getting attention to the physical shops, driving sales and gathering excitement for the upcoming collections. It’s all about dem cornerstones.
Picken: “European Fashion Weeks, too, are getting canceled so who knows, other cities might follow in Shanghai’s footsteps. SFW in the Cloud also felt like a testament to the resources at hand in the city plus that overall sense of not being afraid to take a risk and seeing how it goes. Aside from many a tight brand budget, timing-wise, things were pretty tight as well for this event. However, on the plus side, there were actually no big expenses involved. And we, as FFIXXED, could manage in terms of timeframe and budget. Just go with the flow, we said.”
To Buy or Not To Buy?
The bigger problem was that whereas across Mainland China, the SFWxTmall setup generally worked well in terms of technology, outside of it, potential viewers encountered some technical hiccups. Ambiguous guidelines, time differences that would not allow “outsiders” to watch the live-stream, log-in issues, and good old-fashioned language barriers — as Tmall is mainly set in Chinese.
Lau: “The whole Taobao thing was a bit confusing, people wrongly scanning the QR codes [using WeChat instead of Taobao to scan], no loopback, and so on. Internationally speaking, you could opt for other platforms. If it were on Instagram, everyone could watch it. VPN provided for those in China hehe.”
Admittedly, brands need to find a way to better connect with the end-consumer, however, the appeal of the industry must not be forgotten. Whilst the Labelhood Live brand intro videos were high-end, the presentations themselves were of lower quality. This may still speak to the individual end-consumer, but does it really reflect the general theme of fashion?
Lau: “We, as FFIXXED Studios did intentionally go for the, call it, 1990s QVC [teleshopping] style. We just wanted to have some fun with it, be light-hearted, especially in the light of a long and dark national lockdown.”
In terms of demographics, the broadcast, to the foreign spectator, may have felt rather skewed towards millennials and Gen Z viewers. However, as stated before, online shopping is a borderline essential aspect of daily life on the go across China. Your audience is thus, well, anyone and everyone tuning in as they surf the Tmall waves.
In other demographic terms, the live-stream was, nonetheless, mainly an end-consumer event leaving little room for professional buyers. Though the stretch to include the pro-buyer is not that far.
Picken: “If it’s a buyer watching the live-stream, they can contact the brand directly and make a showroom appointment. This live-stream was really more branding and consumer-facing. The showrooms, by the way, are going ahead as (pretty much) normal. A little tweak here and there provided. There have actually already been a couple of digital showrooms on at this point; that wholesale aspect is going ahead as usual.”
The Question Marks
Are Fashion Weeks not there to create the mystique and exclusivity fashion so dearly to shrouds itself in as to awaken a need, a desire deep within the consumer — and ultimately tap into the much-needed demand?
Lau: “Fashion Week is more all-inclusive. It exists for everyone to gain access to fashion, not just the industry. Designers are, in these coronavirus times, currently more concentrated on B2C [D2C, even], given the many [show opp] cancelations and closing of physical shops. FFIXXED is also new to the live-streaming world. I guess there was an aspect of ‘audience’ — namely the Labelhood people plus Tmall people. Again, tailored to that local audience.”
Picken: “Given SFW comes with relatively no fashion baggage or long Fashion Week history, this type of freedom de facto allows them to experiment more with the overall concept of “Fashion Week”. Experimental equals exclusivity equals consumer desire, one might even say.”
‘Twas very much a local love affair.
The Labelhood Live vision and mission catered to local flavor, made from all local ingredients, with a shot of QVC quirk to reboot morale.
It was the global fashion industry that turned this local event into some type of wishful, glocal thinking; a designated forerunner taking the reigning Fashion Week reality into the augmented realm.
The future of fashion?
Color outside the lines, but remember your OG frame.