BEIJING — Shanghai-based designer Masha Ma is planning to open up to 100 stores for her diffusion line Ma by Ma in mainland China by 2022, launch a men’s line by the end of the year and branch out into the world of handbags.
“I don’t want to be just a designer; I want to be a brand,” the Central Saint Martin’s alumnus said of her Ma by Ma expansion across the Middle Kingdom. The absence of a buyer system in China forces many young designers to get into retail themselves. But Ma said her ambition doesn’t stop at just one store or one city. She wants her designs to be seen and bought across the country, and in the future, hopefully across East Asia and one day, in America.
Ma by Ma is the more affordable, secondary line from the Masha Ma brand, targeting young, urban women. The designer describes Ma by Ma’s DNA as “modern comfort adventure” versus Masha Ma’s edgier and minimalistic aesthetic.
If everything goes well, Ma said she will launch her first men’s collection, called Mattitude, in October. It will start as a capsule collection focused on functional, fashionable sportswear and be featured in a new multibrand shop called Magmode that Ma has invested in with other emerging designers and a company whose name she declined to reveal. The first store is slated to open in Beijing’s Sanlitun neighborhood in June.
“We’ve been planning [Mattitude] for a year and a half now and are in the final stages of the investment structure and contract. It’s a small capsule we hope to put in four or five [Magmode] stores and give it a try….If everything goes well, we may have a store for men’s wear in March 2017,” Ma said. Based on how the capsule goes, Ma will consider a runway show in the future.
“There’s no really cool, sporty, chic but functional line existing [in China] — so this is my project. When the guys go on the train and plane, [they] don’t look like a disaster,” Ma said. “I just cannot look at one more polo shirt — I can’t. That polo shirt [paired] with the little bag — it’s poisoning.”
Ma is also branching out into the world of accessories. So far, she has introduced sunglasses but her goal is to make an “it” bag.
“There’s no one Chinese designer who has done an ‘it’ bag which really tells you — no one has really done branding because an ‘it’ bag is really built on branding,” Ma said.
So far, the designer has opened 10 Ma by Ma shops in top malls from northern to southern China and is slated to open 20 more next year. She’s tapped former Vogue China creative director Stéphane Delgado to oversee the styling and branding of the new shops and is currently on the hunt for a brick-and-mortar space in her hometown of Beijing, but she said it’s not easy due to the Chinese capital’s constant traffic jams and poor city planning.
“Paris is similar to Shanghai — people can walk around from one mall to the other. But in Beijing, you can’t walk. You pretty much need to know where you’re going and it’s your destination for the day,” Ma said.
In 2015, she opened three shops in Shanghai, and others in second-tier cities such as Suzhou, Wuxi, Hefei, Harbin, Dalian and Chongqing, along with a concession at Galeries Lafayette in Beijing. The shops vary in size from about 500 square feet to about 1,200 square feet.
“[The 10 shops] cross all China and on the same day, have a 36 degree Celsius [or 97 degree Fahrenheit] difference. To cover China, it’s like covering the whole of Europe — people have different tastes, different weather. When you talk about north and south, it’s like you’re talking about a different country already,” Ma said, adding how she hopes to open between 80 to 100 shops in the next five or six years. The Ma by Ma expansion is backed by a Singaporean investor who Ma declined to disclose. The higher-end Masha Ma line doesn’t have stand-alone stores but is carried internationally in stores including L’Exception in Paris and Joyce in Hong Kong.
Ma said she’s not going to open stores in third- or fourth-tier cities at the moment to ensure that her design, creativity and price points, which average between 1,800 to 2,500 renminbi (or $276 to $382 at current exchange), are not compromised. Ma said she hopes to tap into the Korean and Japanese markets. After that, she may possibly head to New York via fashion week.
A regular at Paris Fashion Week, Ma plans to keep showing in the French capital, saying her line reflects the “edgy, minimalistic and cool” Parisian woman. She hopes to show in New York in the distant future.
“Regarding New York, it’s better to start with men’s wear, or Ma by Ma, which is more contemporary, vivid,” Ma said, adding she may start with a showroom before showing at New York Fashion Week to test the market.
Moreover, Ma said her expansion is an example to other designers that they, too, can branch out like her and conversely, in a small way, change the mind-set of mall retailers that young designers can sell just as well as larger brands.
“We can equally earn the same amount of money compared with [larger] brands and prove to the malls that we can do better. This is how we started with the first 10 cities,” Ma said.
The designer hopes to introduce pop-ups and events surrounding the interests of her customers, who she describes as the new bourgeois class consisting of women between the age of 25 and 35 who earn more than 20,000 renminbi a month ($3,062 at current exchange). They’re digitally savvy and are treating themselves to the finer things in life, such as travel and recreational leisure versus their parents’ generation, whose sole aim was to “get rich, or die trying” as a personal life goal, according to Ma.
“This generation, my generation, is more liberated; they’re more free. They have a different kind of value — either it’s social or moral value. They kind of took it from Europe because of the boom of the Internet — they decided [that] ‘I’d rather have a good life.’ Their definition of a good life isn’t to not be starving. The nature of living a good life is to treat yourself well. Live for the day,” Ma explained.