SHANGHAI — When it comes to fashion in China, the focus tends to be on foreign brands entering the market and quickly expanding here. They tend to overshadow China’s own crop of homegrown brands — some of which have thousands of stores but practically no name recognition internationally.
In many cases, Chinese textile manufacturers “who cut their teeth” making apparel for Western retailers decided to start their own fashion lines for the domestic market, according to Torsten Stocker, a Greater China partner at the consulting firm Monitor Group.
These players were able to expand at breakneck speed by working with diverse networks of distributors, franchise partners and business partners. “Basically, [the brands] didn’t have to invest their own capital,” Stocker said. “That is how they managed to scale up so quickly.”
Yet many say there are signs that the initial boom for domestic retailers is coming to an end, especially as consumer tastes become more sophisticated, exposure to foreign brands in smaller cities increases and China’s economic growth slows.
Now simply opening stores and selling products does not work. “Very few have merchandisers who can put together a real look and feel for the season. There are very few people who can manage the retail shops at an operational level. There are very few people who can actually build a brand,” Stocker said. “The slowdown in demand is just exposing some of this.”
Analysts say they expect some domestic fashion brands to fail while others will close stores, streamline operations and adapt to a new, more competitive marketplace. Nevertheless, the sheer size and wealth of many of China’s big brands means they likely will be around for a while, and perhaps even become household names in markets beyond China.
Here are seven of China’s biggest fashion brands worth watching:
Metersbonwe is China’s answer to Hennes & Mauritz. Founded in the mid-Nineties by Zhou Chengjian, an entrepreneur from Zhejiang Province, the brand is listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange and has more than 4,500 stores on the Mainland.
Known as one of China’s most famous casualwear brands, the retailer is popular for its affordable fashion targeting young customers. The company’s revenues for the third quarter ending Sept. 30 were 2.6 billion yuan ($416.3 million at current exchange), a 13 percent decrease from the same period in 2011. Profits for the third quarter were 319.7 million yuan ($51.3 million), down from 369.2 million yuan ($59.2 million) in the third quarter of 2011.
Metersbonwe is gearing up for international expansion within the next several years, according to a company spokeswoman, who said the retailer is eyeing North American and European markets. She could not confirm any plans for specific store openings outside of China.
While Metersbonwe is the company’s main brand, parent company Metersbonwe Groupalso has a number of other smaller labels, including Me & City, which targets young white-collar workers seeking fashionable clothes, and urbanwear brand Tagline.
According to Jeff Zhou, an associate with Mandarin Capital Partners in Shanghai, Metersbonwe is beginning to struggle as it faces stronger competition from brands, like H&M and Zara, that are expanding in China. “I don’t think Metersbonwe will disappear, but in the short term, they must figure out what to do. The next decade could be very difficult for them,” he said.
@kith is moving into children’s. The men’s and women’s streetwear brand has launched Kidset, a Kith kids line located in New York at 64 Bleecker Street. The line includes mini versions of staple Kith pieces like the Astor bomber jacket and the Kith box logo sweatshirts, along with a wall that can display up to 120 pairs of shoes from @adidas, @newbalance, @timberland and more. #wwdfashion
“I just wanted to create this fully rounded character, but I do think what excited me most was just the opportunity to give a group of people representation that I feel needs it. I like to do characters in projects that stand for something and Karolina definitely does, so that was really exciting to me,” @ginnygardner says of her new role in @hulu’s “The Runaways.” Gardner plays Karolina Dean, a queer superhero, which is a rarity for @marvel. Read more about Gardner’s character on WWD.com #wwdeye (📷: @dandoperalski)
@heriethpaul and @gracebol have a moment on the @victoriassecret fashion show 2017. See every look from the runway on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: @giovanni_giannoni_photo) #wwdfashion #victoriassecret #VSFashionShow
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia