By  on December 5, 2014

SHANGHAI — Celia Bernardo, a locally based Spanish designer specializing in textured knitwear and batik-inspired fashion for her label Celia B, has just opened her first store here as she plots further expansion of her brand in Asia.

The 230-square-foot store is located in a Takashimaya in Shanghai's Gubei district, a Japanese and Korean enclave in the western suburbs of Shanghai. Bernardo said she hopes to leverage the store's unique location to help her gain traction in the Japanese market, where she already has a small presence at International Gallery Beams in Tokyo. The Shanghai store opened Saturday.

Bernardo, who launched her own brand two years ago, currently operates a wholesale business selling to high-end multi-brand stores in China. This fall-winter, her brand debuted on Net-a-Porter. Her other international sales points include Sauce in Dubai, Nass in Kuwait and select stores in Europe. Her distribution network currently consists of 15 sales points worldwide.

Over the next two years, Bernardo said she plans to further expand her business in Japan and branch out to new markets like Thailand and Indonesia.

"Asia is my goal - and Takashimaya is my door to the Japanese market," said the designer, whose resume includes stints at Chinese brand Asobio, Zara and Pepe Jeans. "I would like to move somewhere else to continue my adventure. In Japan they appreciate handicrafts, color and quirky design - I think my brand will do well there."

The designer bases her patterns on traditional handicrafts and textiles that she collects while traveling. In China, the indigenous tribes in Yunnan province who immigrated to Laos and Thailand inspire her. Her key motifs include crotchet and African wax.  Prices range from 1,500 renminbi for a dress to 3,000 renminbi for a coat, or $245 to $490.

Bernardo declined to give figures but said her sales have doubled over the last year.

Bernardo, who has been nicknamed the "queen of crotchet" for her handicraft-inspired designs, attributes her popularity to the changing spending habits of China's middle classes.

"Here people spend a lot of money on clothing even though they are very expensive compared to the value of living – that's not the case in Europe," she said. "People are braver here, they like to mix and match and to stand out, whereas in Europe people are more conservative."

Despite her success, she acknowledges the challenges of operating in the Chinese market, which is notoriously hard to crack. "You need a lot of investment in marketing, to talk the language and to go through their channels," she said.

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