The Hub in Shanghai

SHANGHAI — The latest edition of fashion trade show The Hub reflected the changing consumer and retail markets in China.

Running from Oct. 12 to 14, the 62 participating brands were mainly from abroad — the U.K., Scandinavia, South Korea.

The Hub first launched in Hong Kong in 2013 as a means for smaller, niche brands from overseas to be able to access the Chinese market by meeting with buyers from the nascent multibrand retail sector on the Mainland.

Though that mission hasn’t been abandoned, Richard Hobbs, the show’s cofounder, said the focus has had to shift as the Chinese retail market rapidly evolves, and attention has moved away from first-tier cities to smaller ones, where growth was more apparent.

“The Corso Comos and the Lane Crawfords are amazing stores, but they aren’t necessarily doing good business,” Hobbs said. “Maria Luisa has closed down. Shanghai is a tough city for retailers at the moment.”

Hobbs cited factors such as the explosion of e-commerce as a tough competitor for brick-and mortar operations to overcome, particularly given the cost of setting up in China’s biggest cities, Shanghai and Beijing.

“The reality is the multibrand growth that people have been talking about for the last two years hasn’t happened to the degree that we had hoped,” he said. “Unless you have the buyers and the logistics, the infrastructure, the eye to buy and curate brands in the right environment, not everyone can do that.”

To help combat these developments, The Hub this year partnered with the Shanghai Fashion Week organizing committee to become an official fashion week event. According to Hobbs, this allows them to access the deep networks the government-affiliated organization has, moving beyond The Hub’s own network, which is mainly concentrated on first-tier cities.

“The partnership with Shanghai Fashion Week means we will be able to make connections with Tier Three people that we couldn’t reach on our own,” he said. “We have the Tier One people and a growing number of Tier Twos, but we couldn’t reach beyond that on our own.”

Many of the international brands exhibiting at The Hub were first timers, as has always been the case with a show focused on helping those who have little to no presence on the Chinese mainland. Broadly, they are trying to partner with local buyers, distributors and e-commerce platforms. Over the show’s three-day run, about 2,000 visitors attended, on par with previous editions.

“We are obviously hopeful,” said Lisa Lim, chief financial and operating officer of British lifestyle brand Orla Kiely. “We haven’t been into China in a big way, but we recently opened in [South] Korea and Japan and we hope that will help us gain some reputation in China. We hope to meet with a distributor to help us get into the Chinese market. Thus far it mainly has been online business in China through Amazon China and our own e-commerce web site.”

Fellow Brit Sadie Clayton was bringing her fashion forward, sculptural designs, which are known for utilizing copper as a material, to China for the first time, after receiving positive responses from Asia buyers who saw her eponymous brand in European showrooms.

“We came here because we showed for the first time in Paris in March and the orders and interest that we got there was mainly from the Asian market, which is what made us want to come here,” said Clayton, whose collection was priced from around $100 to $500 at wholesale. “People like the embroidery, the sculptural element. I think Asia is more open-minded to experimental clothing. They are open to the copper element.”

Jennifer Zheng, chief executive officer and merchandising director for The Room, a series of multibrand stores focusing on young designer brands located in Shanghai, Nanjing, Beijing and Ningbo, was one of the buyers in attendance at The Hub.

Though The Room traditionally stocks international brands sourced from Zheng’s buying trips to New York, London, Milan and Paris fashion weeks, she is representative of another trend appearing in the Chinese multibrand market, as local consumer and buyers are becoming more open to homegrown designer brands.

“Though we always mainly stock European brands, now I have an open mind,” she said. “I am also looking at Chinese brands. I feel like stocking Chinese brands is actually very convenient. There’s no communication problems and also the lead time is very short. Chinese brands know Chinese customers, so they are fast to act. In Europe, we need to order half a year before and it’s a very long process.”

Hong Kong brand Id, which recently made a lauded debut during Paris Fashion Week, sees itself as a beneficiary of this branching out beyond European brands, though it’s also aware there is a different expectation from Asia brands in terms of pricing, from local buyers.

“Buyers in China are more price sensitive when it comes to local brands. Buyers in Europe are prepared to pay standard prices for Asian brands, but in China, if you’re not an established brand like Uma Wang or Masha Ma, they will think this pricing is expensive,” said Id founder and creative director Julio Ng Chun-Bong. “The Chinese shops are still looking more for European brands, the Chinese shops that have picked us up have actually commented that our cuts are very European.”

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