SHANGHAI — Lafayette 148, a New York-based bridge brand, is tapping into the Chinese market and staging a homecoming of sorts for one of its founders.
According to Chinese-born entrepreneur and co-founder Shun Yan Siu, the brand's debut in China is the "second opportunity" of his life – the first great opportunity being the chance to come to America to raise his family and start a successful fashion brand.
"Even ten years ago I would've been surprised to know that we would now have a store in China. China is moving so fast," Siu said.
Lafayette 148 New York opened its first store in the City Plaza mall in Shanghai's downtown Jing An district in April and the brand is currently scouting locations for a store in Beijing.
Spearheading the brand's expansion into China's retail market is Kinsen Siu, Shun Yan Siu's son, who was born and raised in New York, but after 18 months living in Shanghai, feels he has a grip on the kind of Chinese consumer who will embrace Lafayette 148.
"She's going to be in her early- to mid-30s and quite successful in her career. She needs to look good and look professional whether she is going into the office or, quite frequently, to networking events. There's this mixture of professional life and desire for comfort as she transitions from office to work dinner to home throughout her entire week," Kinsen Siu explained. "She's the confident woman who is at the point where she's saying, 'I'm beyond the labels, I have my own sense of style, I want to try things that I like and I'm comfortable with.'"
Kinsen Siu declined to give figures on the Shanghai store's performance but he said that the brand is doing well.
"We're very happy with the sales we've had so far in Shanghai and our expectation is to grow 40 percent this year over ," the executive said.
Lafayette 148 may be a conspicuously American brand, with its roots firmly planted in the sophisticated style capital of New York, but it is also, in some ways, a rather Chinese brand. The company moved its manufacturing base to Shun Yan Siu's ancestral home of Shantou, in southern China's Guangdong Province, a decade ago, from the U.S.
According to the company's other co-founder and president, Deidre Quinn, the brand is well-placed to capitalize on their "home field advantage" in China, but will not be positioning itself overtly as a Chinese brand in a bid to attract the country's increasingly nationalistic Chinese consumers.
"We definitely plan to be perceived as an international brand, we are definitely a New York-designed brand and we brought it here as a New York city brand, which is who we are, that focus, that's who Lafayette is, that's our story," Quinn said during a recent trip to China to celebrate ten years of manufacturing at the Lafayette 148 factory in Shantou.
Branding expert, Peter Mack, who is Landor Associates' executive director of marketing for the Asia-Pacific region, said Layfayette 148's links to China should prove an asset.
"They are obviously going to have the right relationships, understand the best locations in Chinese cities and the most important Chinese-language magazines and media," Mack said. "That's probably the most important part of the Chinese connection for Lafayette 148, that guanxi [a Chinese term referring to a network of mutually beneficial relationships]. "
Lafayette 148's prices in China are a bit higher than they are in the United States. Converted into dollars, knitwear goes for about $500 while dresses go for about $1,000 and coats can fetch as much as $4,500.
About 85 percent of merchandise mix in the Lafayette 148 Shanghai store come from the brand's regular collections while 15 percent are special pieces created for the Chinese market.
"They definitely want a lot of luxe materials: cashmere, proper furs, and higher end down jackets," Quinn said, adding that some pieces were cut specifically to flatter Asian body shapes.
"We haven't been afraid to give them the most luxurious fabrics, mainly from Europe. Where we may have seen some resistance on the prices in the U.S. but here we don't see that," she said.
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