BEIJING, China — Much has been made of the insatiable Chinese appetite for international fashion — a demand that my company, Shangpin.com, has benefitted from. But what is often overlooked is the remarkable growth of quality Chinese brands, which are taking advantage of China’s advanced manufacturing sector, balancing high production standards with relatively low costs.
There is a wealth of this kind of design talent around that we have decided to create a dedicated channel on Shangpin.com, allowing customers to see exactly what is on offer from almost 80 Chinese brands (all which have been personally curated by our senior staff). There is no room here for anyone who takes the copycat approach, although international influences are visible in their designs.
Partly because this generation of designers has had the opportunity to travel, explore and study globally, those with talent are able to evolve at a phenomenally fast pace. It helps that they have easy access to top-quality manufacturers in their own backyard that can readily meet international standards and deliver to tight deadlines at affordable prices. As Chinese designers, they also have the ability to clearly communicate their needs to manufacturers across the country and personally supervise the production process and quality control.
Two of the outstanding names in our new channel are Alexander T Zhao and Away Lee, designers who I met when I was a judge on Muse Dress, a popular television show in China seeking to scout upcoming fashion talent. Zhao is based in Beijing, returning to the capital city after studying fashion design in Italy. Her use of imported, unusual materials and flamboyant style appeals to celebrities looking for a special outfit. Away Lee, a fashion journalist-turned-designer, is known for her elegant and natural approach, with a focus on intricate details.
Furthermore, these designers regularly incorporate subtle or distinctive Chinese elements into their prints; it might be a traditional icon, a flower or a bird, or something else that Chinese consumers can identify as a cultural reference. When you combine local emotional appeal with international influences and standards, the effect can be powerful — especially when the quality and price matrix of their designs are as attractive to local consumers as the likes of Prada or Gucci.
A special dress or suit by a high-end local designer on Shangpin.com would typically sell for 2,000 to 4,000 yuan ($300 to 600), and some are available for next-day delivery. Made-in-China designers like these have become increasingly popular with Chinese fashion-savvy consumers and industry insiders, as they often seek standout pieces that attract attention and help position them as leaders and first-adopters. The limited number of pieces among these brands — most have around 50 to 80 SKUs a season — means there is a lesser chance of bumping into someone wearing the same outfit.
Chinese designers of this kind often consider their brand too refined for the country’s mainstream online platform, Tmall.com. While there are physical stores in China that promote local fashion talent, we have been staking a claim as leaders in the online space. The 80 made-in-China brands making an impact on the site make up about 10 percent of our total number of brands, but with the pace of change in China — in terms of local creativity and production — I have no doubt that this figure will double soon.
This points to a bright future for China’s apparel manufacturing industry. I think we should encourage clever, bold entrepreneurs, who are willing to take creative risks while boosting our economy through the use of local manufacturers and supply chains. They are the individuals who will ensure that the local industry remains competitive and that the standards of made-in-China will continue to rise.
David Zhao is the founder and chief executive officer of Chinese fashion e-tailer Shangpin.com, which sells over 800 international and local brands including Lanvin, Topshop and Alexander T Zhao.
The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.