Rome wasn’t built in a day, yet two millennia onwards all roads still lead to the town crazy cat Caligula once called home. The same applies to building a widespread fashion dominion or, in this instance, a mode-minded Middle Kingdom. Xanadu as all that is effortlessly Vogue may appear at first sight, it is when you zoom in that the cracks and fissures are exposed. It is now with a bullseye mark view that a new army sweeps in to move the promotionally connective mountains of social media. A multiple nation army, that is.
“Our app initiative forms two important functions, 1) an aggregator of fashion talents and 2) a liaison between everyday people and the fashion community.” Todd Okimoto, co-founder of LaWo App
Well-versed in the subjects of WeChat e-commerce and social media campaigning, consumer behaviour plus post-90s creative demeanor, LaWO App and WG Empire are two forerunners when it comes to all that fares and flares on the China Fashion battlefield. Nock, draw, loose!
Take Me With You: LaWo
In a fragmented fashion community with no formal enabling mechanisms in place to help people connect, share, help and support, Beijing-based Todd Okimoto and partner Rui Cheng from Visionaire Styling got to brainstorming and came up with the connective conceptualization that is the LaWo App — “LaWo” or “拉我” at its literal core combines “to pull, to take, to collect”and “me, myself and I”. The platform serves two main purposes, 1) help the fashion community, including China, freely connect to one another via a visual directory and 2) help everyday people improve their style, fashion and purchase decisions by leveraging professional fashion expertise.
Old-school Okimoto has a penchant for simple, pure and authentic platforms that exist in service of its users. Turning this techie idea into a user reality, the LaWo app, for example, does not force content onto users, but places display controls firmly in the hands of the users so that people can view what they like. Clean from commercial endorsement clutter, the app environment focuses solely on user content — rather than advertiser intent.
The above picture was shot by L.A.-based photographer Dali Ma of Phoenix Aperture.
LaWo has made great strides forward in 2017, persistently raising the bar with eager beavers from all four corners of this globe lining up to enlist in its communal ranks — stylists, bloggers, photographers and designers alike. The inspiration to take the app to the next level according to Okimoto is “drawn from the fact that much of what I see today is commercial, even those initially ‘pure’ social platforms that have transformed into oligopolistic behemoths focused on ad monetization schemes.” After all is said and done, enabling your own posts to be shown to your own friends and followers nowadays often requires payment, a lightly ludicrous exploit(ation) when you think about it.
Now, speaking of online spending…
Given that LaWo too finds itself in the space that is cyber, a final matter remains to be contemplated, from shopping to styling… Are brick and mortar dead?
A Take On Virtual Reality
China’s online shopping and consumerism patterns, one not-too-odd Todd topic: . “I recently read an article where WeChat and Taobao actually are no longer the e-commerce places to be due to the high financial barriers of getting noticed and low or negative profitability — those deep pocketed, established and/or leading fashion brands exempt. Looking to smaller-sized video platforms as well as micro-KOLs are likely to provide greater returns on investment for smaller brands and boutiques,” Okimoto elaborates. The huge individual spending patterns as reported to the West by Forbes and allies are, after all, created by a lucky few and overall revenues are dictated by population scale. Countries with smaller populations will by law of Nature require higher household-wealth distributions in order to achieve such immense online turnover proportions as China.
A China (Fashion) Consumerism consul, the LaWo co-founder knows the current constitution and as we hang on his every insightful word, one thought incessantly haunts the mind… Seeing how LaWo too finds itself in the space that is cyber, as we go from shopping to styling… Okimoto Oracle, are brick and mortar dead?
“Brick and mortar stores are definitely not dead in China — even Alibaba is attempting forays into hard stores to complement its online presence to build a more comprehensive ‘omni-channel’. Chinese people traditionally [and continue to] frequent malls as one of their top leisure activities. New malls are popping up, focused on providing experiential and interactive activities, education services, movies, along with a wide variety of quality food choices. I expect this trend to continue and make its way to lower tier cities providing additional motivation to get out of the house and into real life.”
Amen to that.
“The post-90 Chinese artists and creatives in general are extremely different from the older generation. We are more open to fresh incomings and like to actively learn new things.” Vera Wang, founder of WG Empire
Taking A Liberal Stand: WG Empire
From Beijing, we head on over to New York City, the fashion capital where Chinese fashion blogger and entrepreneur Vera Wang 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.” Thank you, Temper Magazine’s Assistant Editor-In-Chief Jessica Laiter in her exquisite exposé on “Fashionable Modernization”. The concept is so simple, yet the task at hand proves overwhelming — to the point where many companies are trying, but failing.
Coming in from the online consumerism angle, we take a more creative approach with Wang and her views on the growing crop of Chinese designers and artists currently seeking (but not always finding) global exposure. Whereas a number of Chinese designers still focus purely on adding Chinese traditional elements to their body of work, many simultaneously incorporate classic-cut China and follow the beat of internationally trending fashion drums. “One fine example here is that of New York Fashion Week’s China Fashion Collective show this year. It was clear from the catwalk apparitions that a number of the participating creatives had already and altogether rid themselves of China’s cultural ‘control’ and had embraced a more profitable fashion business model in the pursuit of a better, i.e. commercialized, future — for example Istituto Marangoni graduate Chi Zhang,” Wang informs Temper.
This leads us to wonder… Is this new design about global and trendy perspective or is it actually a matter of China’s young and modernized Zeitgeist?
The Post-80s And -90s Take Their Place
Being a post-90 Chinese fashion blogger herself, Wang harbors some vast knowledge on the topic of generational gaps. “I think we are extremely different from the older generation,” she starts off, “First, we are more open to fresh things, we’re generally more tolerant and like to actively seek out the new and unusual. The majority of young Chinese (fashionable) people, including myself, have had the experience of studying or working overseas; we’ve encountered a lot of foreign fashion, be it American, European, Japanese or Korean! We try to learn about and catch up with global fashion trends and, at the same time, we have our own opinions and unique insights into fashion and art. We express our emotions more directly: If we like a designer, we’ll speak out in favor of him; if we really don’t like him, we’ll make that known in direct fashion as well. We may not share the ‘humility’ our predecessors possess(ed) and may be a little more on the ‘egocentric’ side, but straightforward and moving forward, we surely are!”
Truth has it that the pre- post-80 and -90 crop — in keeping up with complicating things — often insisted on either the full fusion of Chinese design philosophy or the welcoming into the wardrobe of foreign fashion trends without thinking if it would actually suit them. China’s younger generations try to combine global fashion trends with Chinese traditional elements, as well as infuse a zest if their own Zeitgeist. “China’s teens or 20-somethings can, for example, by no means get away with certain more sexy clothes currently trending among their peers in the West,” Wang explains, “And, as you very well know, the Asian body features differ from the western ones. Consequently, China’s emerging designers will take both our culture as well as our physical features into account when creating their collections and subsequently will adjust their creative ideas and actual fit. Et voilà, a new style is born!”
Taking all the above into account, where does this leave the New Made In China label?
“The New Made In China label represents a new class of creatives with aspirations set not only on changing the fashion landscape in China, but on creating a name for themselves internationally,” Okimoto on the new tag in town
The Temper Take
In its final charge, Temper has a thundering three-way Q&A on label-hood, identity crises and attraction. Take it on home, little emperors! [Note: We at Temper use the latter as a term of endearment, free from all 21st Century cultural connotation.]
Temper: The New Made In China label. Opinions?
Okimoto: Introducing a new label in the West requires high investment, oftentimes coming from family member financial support, think angel/seed investors. There was a recent article remarking on the number of Chinese designers who presented at this year’s NYFW, with a main takeaway being how many have been financially supported by their family members much in the same way many Chinese parents fund their children’s expensive overseas education. It seems that participating in fashion shows, often to the tune of $200k USD, to this day remains the key to unlocking doors to a club of exclusive networks and support that just might get one noticed and elevated.
Having said that, I believe that the New Made In China label represents a new class of creatives with aspirations set not only on changing the fashion landscape in China, but on creating a name for themselves in an international setting.
Wang: That New Made In China tag… Let’s put it this way: I believe there will be more and more new Chinese fashion brands popping up in the near future, but most of them will only survive (let alone “thrive”) online. With e-commerce and social media developing so rapidly in China, these have become the most effective tools for branding and selling products, especially for those Chinese fashion brands that experience many difficulties when looking for investors. Unlike their Western counterparts — which come with a rich history and culture, an industrial-scale operational system and often physical stores — Chinese fashion brands are relying heavily on online stores to grow their sales. I’ll admit that e-commerce and social media provide great opportunities for Chinese fashion brands to put themselves out there, however, once they gain more investment and support, they will do better and the New Made In China label can really take off!
“On the one hand, we bring global fashion ideas to China; on the other hand, we lead Chinese fashion and art trend among young people to some extent.” Wang on the post-80 and -90 artistic scenery
Temper: What, in your book, is the spirit of China Fashion in the 2010s?
Okimoto: When I hear the word fashion, I think in terms of the latest trends and crazes, a barometer of sorts for design. As for design, I consider it to be the creative and formative process to develop something new. Thus, the spirit of fashion and design, in my mind, those effervescent qualities that embody both fashion and design, has all to do with the creative sparks, explorations, and trials that coalesce into the production of something new, something that has the unique ability to connect and affect people.
China Fashion in the 2010s in my mind continues to strengthen its creative spirit however still struggles to gain acceptance and fair billing on a worldwide stage. In order to gain public acceptance of new China fashion trends in the international realm will require, for one, the breaking down of long-standing negative cultural bias.
Wang: I think the personalities and philosophies of China’s 20-somethings wield a great influence on China’s newly emerging designer products; they pour their ideas into the product design. On the one hand, they bring global fashion ideas to China and spread the word; on the other hand, they (to some extent) set the trends in China’s fashion and art scenes. On the bigger scale, we, from blogger to designer, all aim to increase Chinese product quality and competitive advantage by creating products that are more stylish and suitable for Chinese people — and more attractive in the eye of the foreign beholder, as well.
Take the ‘classic’ example of famous fashion designer Lan Yu, a post-80. She combines traditional Suzhou embroidery with more Western structural designs, using her fashion formations as a tool to introduce Oriental culture to the world. Her clothing is not only welcomed with open arms in China, but is also widely appreciated by the fashion world at large. So you can definitely see how nowadays we are trying to deliver a message to world stating that we no longer copy the ideas of others, but we have our own voice! That which you purchase is no longer a cheap Made In China product, but has evolved into a unique design crafted by the hands of talented Chinese designers. The New Made In China.”
Several years ago, a number of Chinese KOLs put forward the notion that China-made products shouldn’t just focus on lowering prices, but on innovation and branding as the imperatives at hand. This is one command all creatives must follow, unquestioningly so. As they say… It takes a village to raise a designer and if you want peace, prepare for war. As long as we push forward and don’t pull back: