Emerging Designers | In China, Priestess NYC Takes The Local Route

Brandishing Priestess in Beijing | Source: Priestess NYC

Priestess NYC in Beijing | Source: Priestess NYC

NEW YORK, United States — The growing importance of the Chinese market to the retail sector is well known – particularly amongst large multinational fashion companies. Few smaller labels, however, have made it their mission to penetrate the vast country. But for Cody Ross, the New York-based Texan behind five-seasons-old womenswear label Priestess NYC, establishing a local presence in China early on is a critical part of his strategy.

“If you look at the statistics in China, there are 360,000 millionaires there now and the luxury and semi-luxury market represents about $6.5 billion,” says Ross, who also happens to be a hedge fund manager. On shifting consumer behavior in China, Ross continues: “It used to be that only men spent a lot of money on fashion goods for their girlfriends. Now about 80 percent of women are spending disproportionately more in the luxury and semi-luxury brackets.” The enterprising designer, who lived in Shanghai for three years, clearly sees potential in the Chinese market.

Even though Priestess NYC is young compared to the multinational fashion companies who have operations in China, it already has a regional headquarters in Shanghai, a research and development outpost in Shenzhen, and production facilities in Ningbo and spread across Guangdong province. This supply chain infrastructure is crucial for the company’s production process, but Ross also sees these facilities as a way to glean information on the Chinese consumer. “It’s perfect because you can go there, study the market and you interact with consumers there. It’s that interface that helps you translate the clothes for the Chinese customer.”

It’s this first-hand, insider insight that has helped Ross create designs that speak to the local market (the label’s best seller in China is a Qi Pao inspired dress). In just a few seasons, he has established a strong network of stores for his edgy, contemporary-priced wares and counts Björk and Lydia Hearst as fans. The label, which declines consignment orders (a typical practice for young labels who need to cultivate a customer base), is well placed in Beijing and Shanghai at six boutiques including i.t, the younger, more casual sister store of the Comme des Garçons-carrying I.T.

But Ross is also delving deeper into China, beyond Shanghai and Beijing. His clothes are now carried in Tianjin, Wuhan, Chongqing, Chengdu and Dalian. “You may not have heard of them before, but these are some of the biggest cities in the world,” says Ross. They are also high potential growth markets, with large direct foreign investments. “In the last year, retail sales in China generally grew at 19 percent and there’s incremental growth there. But in these second and third tier cities, it’s more robust at about 25 percent,” observes Ross.

In these cities, the label is targeting “directional and progressive consumers who pay attention to global trends,” says Ross. Compared to previous generations, these young, sophisticated shoppers have far greater exposure to Western fashion and they are more open to integrating it into their lives. That’s often because, with the economy booming, some of the residents have been able to finance education in the West or are employed at foreign multinationals.

Censorship notwithstanding, they also have unprecedented access to the internet, with over 300 million information-hungry Chinese web surfers, the largest internet user base of any country in the world. “There’s a lot of youth driven stuff and they are really receptive to cool, cutting edge fashion and media content,” says Ross.

Having lived in Shanghai, Ross, who is fluent in Mandarin, knows that in China, personal relationships are vital. To spread his message, he literally hits the streets. “I go there myself and meet with local store owners, editors, newspaper writers, and glossies. I tell them what Priestess is about, what it represents, and what the aesthetic is. And they take it on. If I can get them in front of me and have a captive audience, I usually generate orders and get press out of it,” says Ross. The label also applies the same local focus to product placement, dressing specific regional celebrities, instead of national stars, and holding events at local clubs.

Today, Priestess NYC does about 60 percent of its business in the US, with an impressive 40 percent coming from China. For other fledgling labels thinking of following in the footsteps of Ross and venturing into China, the financier cum designer has some advice: “I think the most important thing is to have cultural know-how and a sense of the dynamics taking place in China and the change that’s sweeping that country – it’s really all about knowing the local culture.”

Robert Cordero is a Contributing Editor of The Business of Fashion

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29 comments

  1. Priestess NYC is wonderful, wonderful! I have the privilege of owning a few pieces, and I always feel confident and chic in them. My lifestyle is busy and quite fashionable so looking great is very important to me. I have lived both in Hong Kong and New York, and I can see how Priestess appeals to their fashion-savvy inhabitants.

  2. Hitting emerging markets like China with hot product seems like one of the smartest strategies a label can take in this economic climate. Perhaps the majors can take a lesson from Cody Ross and Priestess NYC and wind up on bodies rather than closeout racks.

    Matt Meyerson
    http://www.expose-ny.com

  3. to be truly influential as a brand, you need to open up to the global markets and it is really prescient to focus on China while expanding in the US as well…
    this line strikes me as international in every sense of the word. the clothing aesthetic does not limit its appeal to customers in the US, Europe, etc. and the business plan is right there too. vogue china is pretty directional and then you have a bunch of stores in Hong Kong and mainland China that are really pushing fashion in different ways.

    the clothes seem like they can be worn by consumers in many markets too…very opening ceremony-esque in the international perspective and appeal to more than one fashion sensibility. they can be interpreted in different geographical contexts and by all ages/body types

    SP from Evanston, IL, United States
  4. great designers always have their eyes wide open to take it all in… kudos to Priestess for translating his style to mesh with the fashionistas in China!

    anna from Brooklyn, NY, United States
  5. Cody Ross is one of the most talented emerging designers I’ve been wearing.
    His personal sense of style fused with influence of one of my favorite designers, Rick Owens, has his asymmetrical prowess getting a lot of attention. His prices are well thought out as times change in the fashion climate, and he hits that head on in this article. With his head in both the financial market and the fashion market (esp. China) we have the guy to watch here. I have a gallery in NYC. I have included Priestess in my up and coming Synchronicity exhibition merging art and fashion.

    Mindy Wyatt from New York, NY, United States
  6. This was an excellent article on not only an extremely talented designer but a designer that has a full grasp of the market that he’s in. I think we all can expect only great things to come for Cody Ross and the Priestess NYC brand.

  7. Cody is one of the most talented and down to earth designers/entrepreneurs I’ve ever met. I was lucky enough to have him dress me for an event in NY! He deserves every accolade – wonderful to see an article about him here. Yay Cody!!

  8. I think this Ross’ decision to enter the Chinese markets at multiple levels is a smart move. All we hear about is Shanghai and Beijing, and entering the less-saturated markets can end up working out very well.

  9. Ross has the right idea by going into China with an open eye to the local consumers. All too often U.S. manufacturers get caught up in the thought that all Chinese consumers want is to mimic American style… Not so! The Priestess line shows that Ross understands that fashion needs to have a mix of global allure and local cultural accessibility.

    Ben Woolsey from Arlington, VA, United States
  10. Ive gotta say that priestess is the most incredible and my favorite label of the past 5 years. Cody Ross’s is a intelligent creative force. One last thing……Priestess NYC rules!!!

    lucas banker from Topanga, CA, United States
  11. so smart, this cody ross. it’s cool- priestess.

    cody fan from New York, NY, United States
  12. Is that picture Beijing? Because it looks like Lane Crawford in Times Square, Hong Kong.

    J from Central District, Hong Kong (general), Hong Kong
  13. Having spent a bit of time living in China personally, I witnessed a few occasions where some of the ladies out on the town were sporting some of Cody’s wares. It seems to me that Cody’s designs and marketing nous have struck a chord with the city dwellers. I’m just hoping to see his designs pop up in Istanbul soon (where I am now working on a short contract). The fashion consumer is just starting to get going in this sprawling metropolis, and something as edgy and different as Priestess NYC would go over a treat.

    Nick, London from Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey
  14. This is the way to start/run a fashion brand! Amazing – growing Priestess NYC here in the US while establishing a foothold in China – what may possibly soon be the biggest consumer spending market in history! Cody Ross, you are killing it!

  15. Roberto:

    Thanks for writing a small piece above.

    It truly shows that if one wants to be successful in a global world that we live in, one has to be sensitive of the cultures they are working in. Cody Ross shows what I think many working in emerging markets must adopt. I see people, daily, with short term goals, who try to accomplish and make quick money in emerging markets. However, what they simply do not understand is that long term is a lot more effective, profitable and it contributes to the society as well. He is a talented young man and his imagination is intriguing which is expressed through his clothes.

    I would like to see his clothes reach Europe as well.

    Maja

    maja from London, London, United Kingdom
  16. Congratulations Priestess! I am thrilled by your well deserved success in China! I have never had so many compliments than when I am wearing one of Cody Ross’s designs. I am so excited Priestess is globally expanding their brand so that more people will get to enjoy their clothes as much as I do! Wishing Priestess every success with their new venture!
    Natasha Wolek (Model, Los Angeles)

    Natasha Wolek from Sylmar, CA, United States
  17. Priestess NYC’s resilience throughout this global economic debacle can perhaps be credited to Cody’s hyperactive-hedgefundesque – - but in my eyes, Cody’s ability to develop unrelenting personal relationships worldwide with his consumer; his knack of empowering a woman to experience euphoric levels of sexiness via textile, shape and design; all while bypassing civil unrest (USA & China) are unmatchable. I believe Cody’s wild enthusiasm, stimulating innovation and contagious futuristic-kitsch are more than paramount to his success. It’s without a doubt this super cool brand & brand master will thrive in any market…

    Kristy Sutor from Vancouver, BC, Canada
  18. Mr. Cody Ross. He is the genius who is behind the Priestess NYC. He is an amazing designer, great economist, as well as an influential writer. I was lucky enough to see one of his presentations in New York. It absolutely was mind blowing.

  19. So happy to see this article! Cody Ross has created some of the most cutting-edge, daring, chic fashions to emerge recently and it’s fantastic to see him achieve this degree of success overseas!

  20. So happy to see this article! Priestess NYC is one of the most cutting-edge, chic, and daring fashions to emerge recently and it’s wonderful to see that it’s achieved this degree of success overseas!

  21. Bravo Priestess! Establishing a fashion label in New York, pioneering new markets in China, and perpetually absorbing culture and translating it into a personal aesthetic takes a lot of energy and sophistication. Cody’s courage is truly avant-garde.

    Sharif M from Klang, Selangor, Malaysia
  22. Ross knows what he’s doing. A breath of fresh air that is bleeding-edge and smart! Keep up the good work!

    D. Wiegand from Amelia, OH, United States
  23. Ross is such a rare talent. Only a select few can combine the creative with the practical, and not just in sense of design but also in marketing. Priestess NYC has success written in its future.

    Olivia from Encino, CA, United States