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.
Taking the final spot on the mens’ portion of New York Fashion Week calendar next month will be none other than @tomford. Though he’s shown his men’s wear in New York in the past, this will mark the first time the designer has shown his men’s collection alone during New York Fashion Week: Men’s. His runway show will debut on February 6 at the Park Avenue Armory. #wwdfashion
London-based couture house @ralphandrusso has certainly been in the spotlight, having its dresses worn by @beyonce, Angelina Jolie, Meghan Markle in her engagement photos and more. For couture, Tamara Ralph focused on ornamentation — think: feathers with chain mail, jet embroidery and clusters of pearls and crystals. See the rest of the collection on WWD.com #wwdfashion #couture (📷: @giovanni_giannoni_photo)
Minnie Mouse celebrated her 90th birthday by getting her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. For her celebratory luncheon, @coach’s creative director @stuartvevers dressed her in a custom made prairie dress, complete with Vever’s take on the polka dot – black sequined versions – under a cropped motorcycle jacket. The designer also put his own mark on Minnie’s classic red shoes, infusing the color with sparkles and adding some Coach crystals. “We chose colors that were very Minnie and also represented quintessential Coach elements,” said Vevers. #wwdfashion #nationalpolkadotday (📷: George Chinsee)
@nickjonas is unveiling his first-ever apparel collection through a partnership with John Varvatos. The limited-edition capsule, which makes its debut in spring, also marks the first time the designer has collaborated with anyone on a line. “The process in working with Nick is amazing. It’s inspiring to be around someone who is not only connected with the trade that they do, but also with what’s happening in the environment around him, and how that connects to what we do with style,” said Varvatos. (RG: @johnvarvatos) #wwdfashion
@margotrobbie steps out onto the red carpet wearing @miumiu. The actress is nominated for “Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role” in “I, Tonya” at the #SagAwards. (📷: Stewart Cook) #wwdfashion
For @massimogiorgetti of @msgm, the Nineties are his favorite decade. “They had a huge impact on my personal growth. What I like of the Nineties is that they are not so precise in terms of style as other decades…there was actually a bit of everything,” he said. As seen on MSGM’s Spring 2018 show: tie-dye and a bit of grunge, two styles that are synonymous with the decade #wwdfashion #wwddecades (📷: @kukukuba)