Shanghai wants its young design talent back.
That was made clear Tuesday night during an event at The New School’s Parsons School of Design hosted by Labelhood, an organization aimed at showcasing young fashion designers under the umbrella of Shanghai Fashion Week. In a room of 80 or so design students, nearly all from China (or at least, Chinese families, as the panel discussion was conducted entirely in Mandarin), an executive from Alibaba, the founder of Shanghai Fashion Week, along with the founder of Labelhood and the designers of the emerging label Babyghost made their case.
“We have more and more young designers now,” Lv Xiaolei, vice secretary-general of SFW, said of the city’s growing fashion showcase. “The industry is really booming.”
Tasha Liu, a cofounder of Labelhood, agreed and added that China overall is seeing a resurgence of appreciation for fashion, design and related talent and urged the students in the audience to think about coming back after they complete their fashion education in the West.
“We think, after you graduate, you’ll want to go back to China, to Shanghai,” she said. “It’s very different than it was 10 years ago, [people] are more welcoming of new, trendy things, and the economy is there for you. And we can help you succeed. There are thousands of brands there moving forward, too.”
As for how exactly brands are moving forward, Jessica Liu general manager and president of Tmall fashion and luxury, said the company is actively looking for young brands with help from design schools with the goal of getting them on the marketplace, but also with a promise of support in marketing, manufacturing and sales.
“We want to make a contribution to the industry…we want to utilize what we have to help design graduates,” Liu said.
Social media as well seems to be playing a major role, especially for labels just breaking out. And, as China does not allow access to platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, WeChat rules.
Xiaobin He, features director of T Magazine China, said WeChat encompasses nearly all of the aspects of those disparate social apps and lets users “have fun” (a phrase that does not translate literally into Chinese), and it actually goes beyond that. Users can post photos and chat, but also pay bills and discover new people and even brands.
He said he knows a designer who started out doing some traditional retail, but not long ago launched a platform on WeChat focused on some lower-priced accessories, generally below 2,000 Chinese yuan, or about $300 at current exchange.
“She not only sold [product] and gained users, she eventually put higher-priced items on and her WeChat and sales started to exceed sales in stores,” he said.
This affinity and comfort with online shopping among an entire generation of hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers is “a challenge that [fashion companies and designers] have to meet,” He added.
But there are designers and companies that are well aware of the power of being online, and even only online.
Ten-year-old Babyghost, which operates and sells in the U.S. and China on Instagram and WeChat, respectively, is one that sees it as not only a relatively inexpensive way to operate, but as a way to easily connect and follow their mostly young, female fans.
“I don’t know if we have social figured out yet,” Josh Hupper, who cofounded the brand with Qiaoran Huang, said. “We don’t solicit, we don’t advertise…but the people we follow, it’s a mix of things I like and people who follow us. I like following fans that have like, 30 followers. They’re always so happy.”