China Offers Untapped Potential for Emerging Designers

In an increasingly saturated independent designer world, it can seem impossible to distinguish oneself as an emerging designer.  The reality is that in order to remain economically viable, emerging labels have to look outside of their local markets to find new territory abroad. Thinking globally is the key to surviving in the harsh wilds of the independent fashion market – but where is this virgin terrain?

It happens to be in the one country that is traditionally seen as a threat to the independent artisan, where dirt-cheap prices trump quality and quantity is the name of the game: China.

There has been a fascinating sea change in Chinese shopper and retailer preferences over the last few years – they’ve moved from coveting luxury megabrands like LV and Gucci to snatching up small independent designs that cannot be found anywhere else – and made outside of China.

The landscape of luxury in China has changed irrevocably; the profile of the middle to upper class Chinese shopper is now young, sophisticated, highly educated and well-traveled.  Chinese consumers account for close to half of all global luxury retail purchases, and they no longer lust for logos, but for rarity and exclusivity.

Louis Vuitton closed three of its stores in China last year, including its flagship store in Guangzhou, and Prada and Burberry among others have experienced a significant slump in sales, the first downturn in the country once considered to be a cash cow for luxury brands.

Chinese consumers account for close to half of all global luxury retail purchases, and they no longer lust for logos, but for rarity and exclusivity.

There are 220 million Chinese consumers buying fashion online every day, and they are willing to spend on average 179% more on designs from abroad than their counterparts elsewhere in the world.  The emerging designer market is estimated at $3 billion. But the prospect of breaking into a market like China is daunting in the extreme for emerging brands – tariffs and customs fees, the language barrier, the cultural barrier – where would one start?

3 Tips for Fashion Designers Looking to enter the chinese market

Aileen Hsu, Head of China Operations for Out of X, a company that introduces emerging labels to Chinese retailers and customers, has a few tips for designers looking to break into the market: First, materials matter. “Traditional, high quality materials always win. The market will always choose gold and sterling silver over brass or gold plating. Stick to the good stuff.”

Second, sustainability is not yet a priority. “…leave the recycled materials and the vegan leather for another market. While sustainability in fashion is beginning to catch on slowly, these types of materials have not yet made their way into the hearts of Chinese consumers en masse the way they have in Europe and North America.”

Next, make sure that wearability is your first consideration when looking at the pieces you want to market in China. “Ask yourself if the Chinese consumer can wear the piece to the office, and then out to dinner with friends; and after that, whether they will put it back on for brunch on the weekend,” says Hsu. “Would 9 out of 10 shoppers wear this on all three occasions? It shouldn’t be so artsy that it wouldn’t be seen on the street.”

And finally, for PR firms working to get media coverage in China for their designers: Be prepared to shell out the dough for the influencers. Key Opinion Leaders, or KOLs as they are called, are major and minor fashion celebrities whose social media following can be huge, and who get paid to wear and talk up designer products. “While you can pitch the fashion media and send out free products – and that’s important too – it’s vital to tap into the KOL community in order to gain brand awareness for your clients.”

Hsu says working with companies like Out of X, which help designers navigate the delicate process of raising brand awareness in China without tarnishing their brand, can be instrumental to designers’ success in the market. “My relationships with luxury retailers as well as with KOLs in the close-knit fashion community in Shanghai and Beijing allow new designers from all over the world to start selling in a gigantic new market,” says Hsu.

About Yael

Yael Hartmann is the Director of North American Operations for Out of X, a B2B marketplace that introduces independent designers from around the world to the Chinese market.