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SHANGHAI — China launches a national ban on plastic bags on June 1, but that impending transition had nothing to do with Anya Hindmarch’s recent visits to Shanghai and Beijing.
“Our timing had nothing to do with [the upcoming ban]. I came to see the country and the shops, and hold press conferences, but it has been lovely to get to know the customers here,” explained the designer, best known for her I Am Not a Plastic Bag handbag phenomenon.
Hindmarch opened a store in Beijing in May 2007 and a second store in Shanghai two months ago. “It’s gob smacking, the potential here,” she enthused. “Shanghai will not replace, but will become as important as New York. The energy is just buzzing.”
Hindmarch’s new Shanghai boutique occupies 850 square feet in the prestigious Plaza 66 mall. Both the Shanghai and Beijing stores are franchises run by Hong Kong’s Pedder Group. There are plans to open 15 stores worldwide this year, including new units in Moscow, London, Las Vegas and Saudi Arabia. The openings will complement an already extensive network of stores, stretching from Japan to Jakarta, Indonesia.
The designer was also in China to launch her latest Be a Bag collection with a cocktail party in Beijing’s Shin Kong Place on May 13. First introduced in 2001, the line personalizes bags by emblazing customers’ own photographs on them. There are also special celebrity editions, which serve as fund-raisers for various charities. In China, local stars Zhou Xun, Du Juan, Li Bingbing, Gao Yuanyuan, Pei Bei, Wendy Yip and Zhang Jingchu have participated in the project.
Hindmarch asserted that her brand’s unique take on customization will set her apart in China’s competitive retail market. “There has been a huge wave of brands coming into China, it is quite overwhelming. We have to spend some time letting the consumer get to know us,” she remarked. “We’ve been working with Pedder for a few years, and previously had a minimal presence in China. The group makes a difference in raising awareness of brands. They are very good for much more niche brands, such as our [line that is] made to your specifications.”
Brand director Kate Southworth noted how the customization feature can result in some comical situations, however. “We had one Chinese customer order one thing for his wife, and then something else with a quite romantic message but not for his wife,” she said.
Hindmarch said there was no plan to capitalize in China upon the celebrity of her I Am Not a Plastic Bag bags, which are widely pirated here. “We have no plans to do a Chinese version. We did our thing, but have to get back to the day job,” she said, noting the impact of the project elsewhere in the world.
“We planned it very carefully, piggybacking on the ‘It’ bag idea, which we hate. Then we had a queue of 80,000 people, two of whom ended up hospitalized. In the end, we had created more awareness, which resulted in quite a few supermarket bans [on plastic bags]. The environmental campaign was a big mass reach for us,” she said.
As for China, Hindmarch said she wants to focus on getting to know the consumer and coming up with a sound business plan that preserves the brand’s integrity. So far she is impressed with Chinese women’s sophisticated and edgy style.
“I recall in Hong Kong 20 years ago how they were very into brand names. Here that is not the case; they have their own confidence. Chinese women are not going to be told what to do, they make up their own minds,” she said. “They are well-educated leaders. It seems to me that Shanghai is a city of strong women.”