SHANGHAI — American designer brands, and particularly Asian-American brands, were a visible addition to Shanghai Fashion Week, which ran Oct. 11 to 18.
Phillip Lim and chief executive officer Wen Zhou of 3.1 Phillip Lim, as well as Derek Lam cofounder and ceo Jan-Hendrik Schlottmann and CFDA president and ceo Steven Kolb were all on hand to participate in events as part of the Shanghai International Fashion Showcase, a platform for international brands that runs alongside the main Shanghai Fashion Week schedule.
According to Kolb, there is a huge opportunity for American brands in China, which is still largely dominated at the luxury end by traditional European names.
“It’s a big market, and it’s only going to get bigger. I think it’s more sophisticated than many American brands think it is. The largeness of it and the many components of the market can be confusing to American designers, so it’s navigating that and really understanding what is the best platform or approach,” Kolb said.
“I think American fashion in general is somewhat overshadowed by some of these luxury European brands that tend to have the interest of Chinese consumers. You look at a Phillip Lim or Derek Lam and they are fairly well-known brands, but they’re still not at the level of a Gucci or a Prada. So that’s a challenge for brands is building that brand awareness.”
Though designers such as Lim, Lam, Jason Wu and Alexander Wang have roots in China, they all set out first to conquer the U.S. market before making significant moves into China, according to Schlottmann, in the case of Lam, this was a deliberate strategy.
“We started out by targeting the American market, even though Derek has this dual identity as American-born Chinese. We felt we had something to say in the realm of American sportswear, and thought once we had made a success there, then it would be the time to move internationally,” he said.
Likewise, all have taken a less-than-aggressive approach when it comes to the China market — though more from inherent caution than lack of interest.
“I feel like in the U.S. when I first started in 2005, it was about making some clothes and seeing what happens. While there is a strategy I think is right, I want to wait, talk to friends, see whether my feeling about this market is right. In the meantime, less is more. Less distribution, more authentic voice, to be able to tell our story or why we matter and why fashion matters so much to us. I think this market is so fascinating,” Lim’s ceo Wen Zhou said.
According to Kolb, this interest is reciprocated by Chinese consumers for whom the youthfulness of American fashion is a plus.
“American culture in general is perceived in a certain way, there is a more pop, accessible, playful element to it, the culture of fashion is related to the culture of art and music…there’s a pure kind of excitement around that,” he said.
“American fashion, we are a young market compared to European brands, so there is a youthfulness in terms of the ability to connect.”