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?
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!
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.
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 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 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 hum — 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 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 KOLs 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.
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 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.
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 their every good word.
The Opinionated Topic
We know, we know. What the deuce is a KOL? You may better know them as bloggers and/or media influencers. KOLs 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 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?!)
The aforementioned is precisely why KOLs 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.
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.
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
Laiter went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Chinese Studies and Communications Rhetoric at The University of Pittsburgh and a Master's Degree in Translation at NYU. Immediately after college, she moved to New York City and since then has worked in a number of different industries such as branding, manufacturing, fashion, public relations and real estate. China always acting as the common denominator.
Inspired by her career, Laiter launched a website called Chinese Graffiti, on which she features emerging Chinese designers, talks about the intersection of tradition and modernity in China, as well as the evolution of society and business culture. As time went on, she sought out like-minded businesses individuals who were interested in a similar market, which is how she became involved with Temper Magazine.
The China market is creating a whirlwind around the glob and it’s only just getting started.
The world can be a small place with a dash of mutual understanding and Laiter loves to be the storyteller who helps to bridge that gap.
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