Emerging fashion designers from China are becoming an increasingly important part of e-commerce giant JD.com’s retail strategy- including its festivities for Singles’ Day, the world’s largest and buzziest online shopping event.
Chi Zhang, a designer known for sexy, skin-bearing looks with a sporty influence, will stage a runway show of his spring-summer 2017 collection at JD’s Beijing headquarters on Singles’ Day (Nov. 11). The show, which will be live-streamed on JD.com, will coincide with the commerical launch of Zhang’s fall-winter 2016 collection on the company’s e-commerce platform.
In something of a departure for Singles’ Day- Zhang’s collection will sell at full price. Traditionally the November sales bonanza has been about luring customers with steep double-digit discounts. Belinda Chen, JD’s general manager of international business development for apparel and home furnishings, said Singles’ Day markdowns will continue again this year but fashion designers are also taking advantage of Singles’ Day to sell exclusive merchandice and bolster their name recognition.
“[Zhang is] building brand awareness instead of, you know, selling at a discount,” Chen said of Zhang, who already has a store on JD.com. “He’s leveraging, utilizing the huge spike in traffic during this period of time.”
In a separate initiative leading up to Singles’ Day, JD has tapped Zhang, and two other Chinese designers (Wang Peiyi and Ji Cheng) to come up with exclusive pieces for the retailer. Chen said this range has a family theme and features coordinating clothes for men, women and children. The items will be sold Nov. 9 via JD’s crowdfunding platform.
“We’re really pushing for original design and providing these designers an opporunity to build their label and to work with them on multiple fronts,” said Chen, who added that JD is currently working with more than 200 independent designers in China and expects to collaborate with even more in the future. “Over the past couple years, these designers are certainly gaining more traction in the industry and on JD.com as well.”
JD does not break out sales figures for its fashion business but the company said apparel and footwear is the largest merchandise category by volume and continues to grow quickly. A spokesman said JD’s top 100 apparel and footwear merchants are more than doubling their sales over the past several quarters.
JD’s push to promote Chinese design talents taps into a broader trend shaping its home country’s retail market.
The appeal of big, international luxury brands has started to wane for some Chinese consumers, according to retailers and local designers. These shoppers, who travel often and can shop European brands in Europe, are looking for something different when it comes to consumption at home. They are also interested in buying unique pieces they don’t see everyone else wearing, these observers said.
Lane Crawford and Joyce have boosted their selection of goods from Chinese brands at their stores in Hong Kong and mainland China. Designers like Xu Zhi and Huishan Zhang, two emerging talents out of China, have said their businesses are growing and gaining momentum with consumers and stores.
“I’ve got a lot of support in China with the press, with the market, with the retailers,” said Xu Zhi Chen, who designs his own brand called Xu Zhi.
Alibaba and JD, China’s e-commerce leaders and fierce rivals, have been ramping up their fashion-related events and activities lately. Just over the weekend, Alibaba’s Tmall staged an eight-hour see-now-buy-now fashion festival in Shanghai. JD has staged its own fashion shows in Milan, London and New York- Zhang was one of the designers featured at the New York show in February.
Both Tmall and JD are slugging it out to lure international fashion and luxury brands to their platforms. JD has recently added brands like Calvin Klein, Dunhill, Trussardi and Juicy Couture to its stable. Tmall’s brands include Burberry, Paul Smith and Macy’s; Tmall also has a partnership with Mei.com, a luxury flash sales e-commerce platform.
While contemporary and sportswear brands have been relatively quick to embrace e-commerce through third-party retailers in China, high-end luxury players have been more reluctant to do so. But JD’s Chen said that mentality has started to change as a slowdown in the Chinese luxury market has forced many brands to shutter physical stores and revist their retail strategies.
“E-commerce is the next growth driver for luxury brands,” she said. “Certainly, over the last year or so, our coversations with a lot of major international brands are picking up.”
Neither JD nor Alibaba are releasing sales forecasts for Singles’ Day but both companies, along with scores of other Chinese retailers are gearing up for the big day. Alibaba, which launched Singles’ Day in 2009, has booked Katy Perry to perform at its Nov. 11 bash in Shenzhen and will showcase virtual reality shopping technology.
Alibaba said its Singles’ Day sales hit $14.3 billion last year, although the company’s accounting practices have attracted the scrutiny of the SEC. JD said it saw Singles’ Day gross merchandise value increase by 140 percent last year but it did not release a figure in dollars.