World taking notice of Fashion Week
European players in the industry need to place this event in Shanghai very high on their ‘must-attend’ list
Shanghai Fashion Week, which ended on April 3, has seen a further surge in popularity and publicity. Shanghai has now powered ahead of regional rivals Seoul and Tokyo with an apparently unstoppable rise onto the world stage. One of the main reasons behind Shanghai’s increasing regional and international presence is the burgeoning network of trade shows that complement the catwalks and other events.
European fashion industry players need to place Shanghai Fashion Week very high on their list of “must-attend” fashion events, especially when targeting further expansion in China’s second- and thirdtier cities. It the emergence of increasingly discerning and tech-savvy Chinese urban fashion consumers in second- and third-tier cities that explains the ballooning number of trade shows each year in Shanghai.
An estimated 3,000 buyers attended this year’s Shanghai Fashion Week, many of whom are representing the growing number of secondand third-tier Chinese city multibrand stores. European fashion buyers in particular, therefore, must now see Shanghai Fashion Week as an essential event and not merely an increasingly important stopover.
Shanghai Fashion Week has grown in importance across China, too, and now provides a perhaps unique insight into the changing nature of Chinese fashion consumption. Increasingly independent of overseas designers, younger Chinese fashion designers can be found from many parts of the Chinese mainland. Younger Chinese consumers, typically millennials, can also be found all over China. European buyers, designers and fashion brand managers can gain invaluable insight into a much more confident and discerning Chinese fashion consumer.
Certainly, the overall feel of the latest Shanghai Fashion Week reflected a perhaps newfound togetherness between younger Chinese fashion designers and younger Chinese fashion consumers, with both driven by selfdetermination, individual expression and a rejection of the typically Western fashion mega-brands. European fashion brands should take note.
In particular, the European fashion industry should become very familiar, very quickly, with Labelhood, an independent showcasing platform that operates under the umbrella of Shanghai Fashion Week. Labelhood operates as a sort of fashion incubator for younger Chinese and Asian independent fashion designers, expediting the emergence of local talent on the world stage.
Indeed, it is the Labelhood shows and exhibitions that have contributed significantly to collections that are particularly creative and original and that bear no trace of or resemblance to any Western designer label.
In effect, Shanghai Fashion Week is fast carving out an impressively unique niche, based on experimentation, originality and fun. This is much more than an annual event. In short, it represents a microcosm of change across China.
European fashion industry leaders and managers should actively seek long-term partnerships with this new breed of younger, typically Western-educated Chinese fashion designer, and Shanghai Fashion Week is the perfect place to make initial introductions.
These younger Chinese fashion designers, partly spurred on by the changing nature of younger Chinese fashion consumers, do not regard fashion as some form of elitist expression or status symbol, but instead view fashion as the perfect opportunity for individuality and self-identity.
Typically, their first goal is to inspire more ordinary Chinese citizens to reinvent themselves via fashion with very original, almost co-created fashion designs. European fashion designers will struggle to further penetrate the Chinese mainland market without close working relations with these younger Chinese fashion designers.
Perhaps typical of this breed of different and internationally aspiring younger Chinese fashion designers is Huang Wanbing . Huang, who studies womenswear at London’s Central Saint Martins, jumped at the opportunity to exhibit her current collection at the recent Shanghai Fashion Week. Huang presented a pleat-centric collection that was extremely well received, with the overall maturity of the design perhaps most impressive of all.
Huang admits to an insatiable appetite toward fashion design, with an abundance of original ideas and creations. Central Saint Martins and other prestigious, Europe-based fashion educators provide the perfect breeding ground for these younger Chinese fashion designers, and Shanghai Fashion Week is keen to showcase their latest work. The European fashion industry’s future links with Chinese fashion designers could begin at Central Saint Martins and other similarly august fashion schools.
Huang is not alone. Wong Shasha is another example of this audacious new type of Chinese fashion designer. Having graduated less than a year ago from the Royal College of Art, Wong exhibited her first knitwear label, Swaying, on the catwalks at the recent Shanghai Fashion Week. Originating from the southeast Chinese seaside resort of Xiamen, Wong admits to inspiration from childhood memories of this coastal jewel in the crown of Fujian province. In particular, Wong recalls vivid memories of personally knitting nets for the fishermen of Xiamen.
Wong, like an increasing number of others, now sees Shanghai Fashion Week as the ideal opportunity to experiment with creativity and innovation driven mostly by personal memories and experiences.
Another distinctly local feature of Shanghai Fashion Week is the increasing use of local celebrities and also internet or social media celebrities or key opinion leaders. The European fashion industry should look closely at the growing influence of Chinese social media celebrities. At the just-concluded Shanghai Fashion Week, reality TV idols were featured alongside some of the exhibitions, and social media celebrities broadcast personally on apps such as Ingkee, providing almost a running commentary as the event was unfolding.
Inevitably, livestreaming via popular Chinese shopping platforms such as Alibabaowned Tmall is fast becoming a prerequisite, and fast-rising Shanghai star designer Angel Chen took full advantage at the recent event. Chen’s show was reportedly seen by an incredible 89 million viewers via video streaming.
The European fashion industry, particularly the luxury sector, should be quick to investigate the effective use of Tmall, which is expanding its coverage to all sectors of the global fashion industry.
For lesser-known Chinese fashion designers, working with trade show partners offers another avenue aimed at brand building.
But it is the changing meaning and image of this brand-building led by Chinese fashion designers that the European fashion industry needs to understand most, and not just the need for an omnichannel approach that makes full use of Chinese social media platforms.
Until a few years ago, Chinese fashion designers were driven by a determination to establish themselves as international designers with creations influenced by established Western fashion designers and Western mega-brands. Increasingly, however, as exemplified clearly at the latest Shanghai Fashion Week, these typically younger Chinese fashion designers are not only rejecting this previous direction, but at the same time embracing their own cultural heritage in their efforts to find originality and self-expression. Expect this trend to continue.
And it is Shanghai Fashion Week that provides a unique insight into this process of seismic change.
As a result, the European fashion industry must now elevate Shanghai Fashion Week to the same level of importance as the shows of London, Paris, New York and Milan, and consider more long-term connections with younger Chinese fashion designers. If this is not the case, then further Chinese mainland market penetration by established European fashion brands will struggle to succeed.