china Close-Ups Lifestyle Society

Close-Up: The Long March Of Fashionable Modernization

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. Question remains... How does one move a fashion label onwards and upwards?

Fashion is on the move. So what​ ​will​ set ​tomorrow’s​ ​aside​ ​from​ ​all​ ​others?​ ​Given​ ​our​ ​love​ ​affair​ with​ ​​all​ ​things​ ​style, ​it’s​ quite​ ​the​ ​romantic​ ​question​ ​to​ ​ponder. 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.​ ​Again, fashion… Is on the move. Perpetually​ in​ motion,​ ​always​ evolving, ​​​the​ ​real​ ​wringer becomes: What​ ​drives​ ​the​ ​movement​ ​itself? 

Feng Chen Wang SS18 NYFW
Feng Chen Wang SS18. Courtesy of NYFW

​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.​

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 cheaper seats in the back: ​China!

Blacklisted 4
The Chronic Blacklisted Collection. Courtesy of Chronic

Many​ ​would​ ​not​ ​view​ ​China​ ​as​ ​emerging.​ ​In ​fact,​​ it​ ​feels​​ like​ ​anything​​ but,​ 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,​ ​shifts ​in​​ the​​ ​business model​​ surrounding​​ fashion​ week, 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 Chronic, do​ Chinese​ ​designers​ ​have​ ​to​ ​do​ ​with​ ​it?

​The​ ​apprehension ​of American​​ and​​ European​ consumers​ to​ purchase​ ​goods ​from​ Chinese​​ ​designers​ simply ​stems​ ​from​ ​a​ ​lack​ ​of​ ​access ​​to​ ​the​ ​China market​ ​in​ ​general.

SHXPIR SHOOTS MODELS “MADE IN CHINA” FOR HARPER’S BAZAAR CHINA JUNE 2013__2
SHXPIR shoots models “Made In China” for Harper’s Bazaar China, June 2013. Copyright@Harper’s Bazaar

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​ ​product​s ​from​ ​all​ ​over​ ​the​ ​world.​ ​Fashion​ ​in​ ​China​ ​too is​ taking​ ​off,​ but​ as of yet it remains a far cry from being an​ ​industry​ ​of​ ​primary​ ​importance.​ ​Nonetheless,​ ​since​ ​many​ ​European and​ ​American​ ​designers ​have​ ​started​ to distance themselves​ from ​official​ ​fashion​ week ​ schedule​s 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 hum — along! China.​ ​Fashion.​ ​China.​ ​Fashion.

Hu Sheguang 2016 BJFW Courtesy Of Xinhua
“Devil In A Red Dress” by Hu Sheguang, 2016. Courtesy of Xinhua News and Getty Images

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 I’m certainly well ​aware ​of​ ye staple fears​ ​regarding​ ​low​ quality​ ​and fake​ ​products, in​ ​the​ ​optimistic​ ​spirit​ ​of​ ​the​ ​future,​ ​I​ do still ​think​​ ​it’s​ ​worth taking​ a second​ ​look.​ ​The​ ​apprehension ​of American​​ and​​ European​ consumers​ to​ purchase​ ​goods ​from​ Chinese​​ ​designers​ ​in my 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​ ​KOL​s ​that​ ​this ​type​ ​of​​ transition​ is​ ​turned​ ​into​ ​a surmountable​ ​feat.

The​ WG Empire ​​intention?​ Bridging​​ ​gaps​ between​ Chinese and American​ ​brands​, as well as​​ ​eliminating​ ​cultural​ ​barriers​ ​that​ ​continue​ ​to​ ​prevent​ ​foreign market​ ​penetration.​ ​

WG Empire
WG Empire: About a love for lifestyle and fashion.

Building An Empire

Dreams,​ ​no​ ​matter ​what​ ​type,​ ​are​ ​the​ ​best​​ form​ ​of​ ​​nourishment. I​ can, however, by no means ​ignore​ ​the​ ​urge ​to​ ​play​ ​Devil’s​ ​advocate and in such fashion, I​ have​ ​to​ ​ask… Are these​ ​dreams​ of​ ​China-made​ ​designers​ ​finding​ ​international​ ​success​ wildly​ ​unrealistic?​   ​ ​Over ​​the​ past number​ of​ ​years,​ ​and​ even​ more​ ​prominently​ put on display during​ ​this​ ​ year’s​ ​NYFW,​ 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​ still​ ​lie​s ​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.

Vera Wang Courtesy of WG Empire
A New York Meets China State Of Mind. Courtesy of WG Empire

We​ ​spoke​ ​with​ ​Chinese​ ​fashion​ ​blogger​ and​ ​entrepreneur Vera​ ​Wang who​ ​recently launched​ ​her​ own business​: 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 ​buzzing​ about:  KOL – that stands for “Key Opinion Leaders”, in case you were wondering.​

​The​ ​purchasing​ ​power​ ​of​ ​​influencers​ goes well ​beyond​ what​ ​you​ ​can even​ ​imagine ​because​ ​now​ ​brands​ ​have​ ​found a​ ​voice ​as ​audiences are​ ​actively​​ ​listening to and​ relying​ ​on​ ​the​ir every ​good​ ​word.​

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Meet creative centipede Daisy Dai, one Key Opinion Leader.

The Opinionated Topic

We ​know,​ ​we​ ​know.​ ​What​ ​the​  deuce​ ​is​ ​a ​ KOL?​​ You​ ​may​ ​better​ ​know​ ​them​ ​as bloggers and/or media​ influencers. ​​KOL​s 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.​ ​KOL​s ​are​ ​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). ​ Within​ China,​​ the​ ​two​​ most​ ​popular​ and​ ​widely​ ​​used platforms,​ known​ ​as WeChat​ ​and​ ​Weibo,​ ​host​ ​some​ ​of​ ​the​ ​country’s — the world’s, even — largest​ influencers.​ ​Unfortunately,​ ​these​ ​platforms​ ​are​ ​really​ ​only​ ​beneficial ​to​ ​a​ ​brand’s growth​ within​ ​China,​ ​simply​ ​because​ ​foreigners​ ​rarely​ ​know​ ​what​ ​these​ ​platforms​ ​are. ​(Insert horror​ face emoji, ​ there​​ are​ ​SM​ profiles ​I​ ​don’t​ ​know​ about?​!)

Daisy Dai
KOLs, KOLs, KOLs: Daisy Dai.

The aforementioned is precisely ​why​ KOL​s​ across​ America​ ​and​​ Europe,​ ​who​ ​feature profiles​ on​​ platforms​ ​such ​as​ Instagram,​ ​Facebook ​and​ ​Twitter,​ ​are​ ​fantastic ​resources for​ ​disseminating​​ information​ to​ ​larger​ ​audiences.​ ​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.

Many​ designers 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.

Made In China Beware Courtesy The Right Voice
Made In China, Beware! Courtesy of The Right Voice

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)​ ​and​ ​figuratively​ ​(see LANYU,​ ​any season)​ 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​ 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 insecurities​, but​​ ​also hinders​ ​brands​ ​from ​realizing​ their​ ​true​ potential. The​ ​thirst​ ​for integration​ ​is​ muddying​ ​down​ ​the​ ​inherent​ ​nature​ ​of​ ​their​ ​brands.​ ​My 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.

LANYU NYFW
LANYU. Courtesy of NYFW

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. Revolution is always risky; that’s a chance you just gotta take.

 

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. ​

Although​ ​we​ ​may​ currently​ find ourselves ​walking​ ​through​ ​unfamiliar​ ​and​ ​unprecedented​ ​territory,​ ​the ​changes in the fashionable landscape​ are​ opening​ ​our​ ​minds​ ​to​ ​new​ ​possibilities;​ ​they​ ​are ​opening the​​ gates​ ​of​ tradition​ to​ ​make​ room​ ​for​ ​the​ ​new. In this case: The New Made In China.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*In keeping with the honest truth, we must note that the Hong Kong KOLs are not what one might call “besties” with the Mainland scene and at times even are looked down upon as the Hong Kong fashion set heyday is often deemed passé. Just a quick FYI. 

 

Written by Jessica Laiter of Chinese Graffiti for Temper Magazine
Edited by Elsbeth van Paridon
Featured Image: SHXPIR shoots models “Made In China” for Harper’s Bazaar China, June 2013. Copyright@Harper’s Bazaar
Copyright@Temper Magazine 2017 All rights reserved

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