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China’s New Wave of Female Fashion Executives

In this month’s China Edit, Chinese executives and their power moves are in the spotlight, Plaza 66 reopens in Shanghai and Dior continues its digital innovation.
Angelica Cheung, Xia Ding & Caroline Rush at the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund launch sponsored by | Source: Courtesy
  • Gemma A. Williams

SHANGHAI, China — "It's a really exciting time for women in China. As the saying goes, women hold up half the sky, but it's the heavier side," says Lv Xiaolei, the Shanghai Fashion Week vice secretary general, better known as "Madame Lu".

“Modern Chinese women are very independent and stand on their own; their thinking is very advanced and open-minded, especially in the fashion industry,” she adds.

When luxury group Richemont replaced almost half of its board members this month, the big news was that one of them was Keyu Jin, a professor at London School of Economics. As the first Chinese female appointed on the board, Jin is now based back in China, a country reported to have one of the highest proportions of female chief executives in the world.

While women continue to face many challenges in China’s business culture, more women are rising the corporate ranks than ever before. Earlier this year Liaoning-native Isabel Ge Mahe was appointed vice president and managing director of Apple China, one of a handful of female executives at the company. Ge Mahe reports directly to chief executive Tim Cook and chief operating officer Jeff Williams, taking over this newly created role amid falling sales in China. And in the political realm, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s first female chief executive, continues to support the creative industries including fashion with the initiative CreateHK.

Armed with a PhD in economics from Harvard University and expertise in international trade and finance, as well as the Chinese economy, Jin is well-placed help steer Richemont alongside her seven new appointees. Her father is the politician and banker Jin Liqun, current president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

"What's special about Jin's appointment is [that] her opinions and advice will be factored into the company's overall strategy in the future [because] Richemont's board has gained much more executive power since its overhaul last year," Yiling Pan, associate editor at Jing Daily, tells BoF.

“Hurun Research Institute noted that China has the most female billionaires in the world, which speaks about the power of Chinese women. It probably means that Chinese women will increasingly take more leadership roles in the fashion industry,” she adds.

China has the most female billionaires in the world, which speaks about the power of Chinese women.

Richemont recently sold Chinese brand Shanghai Tang, and has a struggling watch division due in part to a collapse in Chinese demand for luxury watches over the past few years. Analysts point to obvious advantages of having someone on the board with an intimate understanding of one of Richemont’s most important markets in urgent need of attention.

“[This] seems like a move that would be wise for other [other] brands to replicate,” says Jing Daily editor-in-chief Rozalia Jovanovic. “As for her political connectedness, through her father, that’s part of the appeal as well, and it’s smart for a brand working in a market that is known to be a little volatile and unpredictable.”

Another high-profile female fashion executive making headlines is Xia Ding, the recently appointed president of the fashion business unit of Ding steers a team of more than 1,000 people at JD Fashion, and by leading the company’s push to boost the availability of international luxury and designer brands online, she is one of the figures changing the face of retail on the mainland.

This year has seen a flurry of activity around fashion and luxury. It launched a white glove service, invested in Farfetch and sponsored three designers’ fashion shows in New York and London.’s sponsorship of the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund was announced during London Fashion Week with Xia Ding in attendance.

Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, is impressed with Ding's commitment. "With Xia Ding's unique insights and expertise, the new BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund collaboration with JD Fashion enables us to navigate the Chinese market," she says. "JD Fashion has made a significant push in the sector over the last year and, with Xia Ding at the helm, is bringing in dozens of world-class brands."

Another woman who has been shaking up China’s fashion industry is Sophia Liao, Condé Nast China’s newly appointed president since June. Liao took over from Liz Schimmel who had been in the role for four years. Having previously served as managing director of Condé Nast Taiwan, Liao has been with Condé Nast for 16 years.

In Other News…

Shanghai’s Plaza 66 reopens in Shanghai

Hang Lung Properties invited more than 2,000 guests to celebrate the relaunch of its Plaza 66, considered the shining star in its property portfolio. American singer Alicia Keys entertained guests like photographer David LaChapelle in the space which will feature more than 100 luxury brands including Bottega Veneta, Céline, Hermes and Prada, among others.

Secoo and La Chappelle make filings

Secoo Holding Limited, founded by Richard Rixue Li, has filed an IPO on the Nasdaq. The company is a global elite retail and service site founded in China in 2008. With over 300,000 SKUs, covering over 3,000 global and domestic premium brands, it has become one of Asia's largest online upscale products and services platforms. Meanwhile Shanghai-based fast-fashion womenswear brand La Chappelle, with investors like Goldman Sachs and over 9,000 stores across China, launched an IPO with the aim of raising $702 million in Hong Kong.

Dior is first luxury brand to use Weibo’s Story feature on the Weibo App

Dior is the first luxury house to debut a ‘story’ on the Weibo platform, using it to promote its Rouge 999 lipstick across a limited number of accounts. China’s micro-blogging site Weibo launched the Weibo Story feature in April. Such forward-looking use of social media ensures Dior is in a good position to market entry level items such as make-up to Chinese consumers.

Amazon fails to make a dent in the Chinese market

New reports indicate that Amazon is failing to make the desired impact on the mainland. With a reported 1.3% of China’s online market in China, this makes its market share even lower than the firm’s 2 percent back in 2011. The Seattle-based company is struggling to compete against the aggressive strategies of both Alibaba and who are now also offering online luxury to the Chinese consumer.

Can WeChat Pay help Apple’s case in China?  

Apple is now accepting WeChat Pay, a move that observers see as a way for the firm to integrate itself better into Chinese life. With the launch of the new iPhone and Apple Watch, this a savvy move to increase popularity. According to Quartz, during 2015 the iPhone was the top ranked luxury gift, triumphing over luxury brands such as Hermès but brand loyalty is not guaranteed on the mainland and the deal with WeChat could serve be a canny move to mitigate that risk.

Top Headlines from BoF

China’s big hitters, global executives and BoF’s growing China-based community will come together for the first-ever BoF China Summit.

The company posted hundreds of Chinese-based openings as it attempts to reclaim market share from Alibaba.

WeChat and Weibo are unique in their ability to connect with the Chinese millennial. The secret? The platform’s influencers, argues Hanzi Shen.

Alibaba switches focus to brick-and-mortar shops in the department store sector as part of global expansion, weeks after Amazon closes deal with Whole Foods Ltd.

JD Finance is in talks to buy a 24 percent stake in domestic brokerage First Capital Securities Co Ltd, worth $1.5 billion.

Getting to grips with Yoho!, one of China’s most influential streetwear platforms for the country’s powerful Post-90s generation

The British sportswear giant amps up plans to take on South Korean market with 15 percent stake in Hot-T, as part of wider global expansion plans.

Zhang means business with his first brick-and-mortar store, which will be neighboured by the likes of Céline, Balenciaga and Christopher Kane.

Chinese apparel manufacturer Fujian Septwolves Industry Co. and conglomerate Fosun International Ltd. are believed to be among the suitors vying for the €600 million luxury leather goods company Bally.

The group, which owns the Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot brands, is planning an IPO in Paris.

The deal will see Alibaba spend a further $15 million over the next five years to expand a shipping network that spans the world’s largest e-commerce market.

Focusing on digital and forging relationships with KOLs like "Mr Bags" will prove crucial to Prada regaining ground in China, a region which accounts for close to a third of all global luxury sales.

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