“CHIC is a global platform for all brands who want to explore the Chinese market”
Globalisation and internationalisation were two of the main points of focus at China’s largest fashion trade fair CHIC. Taking place at the NECC convention centre in Shanghai, CHIC welcomed over 100,000 trade visitors from 68 countries to its Spring edition this March, which saw the debut of an international pavilion representing brands from the Netherlands and the launch of a new show-in-show in partnership with the Chinese Shoe Association known as GOFL, as well the return of the French, Italian, South Korean, Turkish and German Pavilions and Pure Shanghai, the Asian branch of British fashion trade fair Pure London.
Chen Dapeng: "China is the best market, but brands need to find the right way to succeed here"
“CHIC, is a global platform for all brands who want to explore the Chinese market,” stated Chen Dapeng, Vice President of China National Garment Association and head of CHIC, during a press conference held at the fashion trade fair. “China is the best market, a huge market, but brands need to find the right way to succeed here.” CHIC, which coincided with the start of China’s 13th five-year plan, aims to act as a guideline for all brands looking to succeed in China, both national and international. With focus placed on the ongoing transformation occurring with the Chinese garment and textile industry, as well as the rise of the maturing, middle-class Chinese consumer and e-commerce revolution, CHIC aims to work together with buyers, brands, retailers and designers to the industry continued to meet the demands of the rapidly changing consumers.
“The Chinese market is transforming and growing at a slower pace than before, although the total demand is still increasing,” continued Dapeng. “This means that the structure of businesses is changing and market demand is changing due to the consumers desire for more balance between quality and price.” As more and more Chinese consumers continue to develop their own sense of style and personal preferences, this form of ‘matured consumer become less willing to pay the large retail markup for certain products, which can be as high as 10 times the items production cost warns Dapeng. “All brands need to realise this and keep it in mind. Consumers may have been willing to pay a price markup for certain products in the past, but not any more. Brands which pay attention to this and change with the market will succeed. The fashion market in China is changing, but the change is good for consumers and the industry itself.”
Mature Chinese consumers search for better price/quality ratio
Dapeng also warns that although many Chinese consumers used to assume that most overseas brands in China were either luxury or premium brands, most have learnt this not to be true. However, the majority still see garments made in Europe, or made from European fabrics to be of better quality and therefore are usually willing to a higher price, noted Uwe Budemann, director of international sales for German cashmere scarf company Fraas, at the German pavilion. “Chinese buyers really seem to appreciate Made in Europe brands, which is a key driver of their appeal in my opinion. It also makes them less resistant to higher prices." Helen Lambert, business development manager for handbag and accessories brand Vendula London believes that Chinese consumers still hold items which are handmade in high esteem, and attributes part of the brand's ongoing success in China to the fact her handbags are designed in the UK and made by hand. “Plus, our attention to details has really helped us stand out here.” The British brand, which first attend CHIC as part of Pure Shanghai last October, has found success in China and aims to open 25 more stores across the country in second and first tier cities over the next year.
Adrienne MacAklay, sales manager from Scottish label Ness thinks that it good to see brands like Vendula London succeeding and doing very well in China. She claims that this season, the brand’s third time attending CHIC, and second time showing with Pure Shanghai, has been the best so far for them but does not that a number of brands who did show with Pure Shanghai the first time did not come back and show again with the trade fair. “If they are not writing orders, then why come back?” mused MacAklay. However, not all of the international and national brands attending CHIC, are pressing to write orders right off the bat. In fact, some see CHIC as the ideal platform to boost their brand’s visibility in China and connect with current agents, partners and buyers.
Brands need to find the right partner to succeed in China
“Part of the reason we chose to show at CHIC this season was to see if the brand would be accepted by others here in China and if people would fall in love with it,” explained Ashlee Yang, sales manager for Chinese designer brand Roy Studio. The 6 year old, ‘genderless’ brand stood out from the group of smaller, local labels with its monochromatic, urban inspired designs made from high quality European fabrics and appeared to attract a lot of attention from passing by visitors. But Yang stressed that they attended CHIC to encourage people to “touch and feel and really get to know the brand” rather than place orders. Jan Boelo Drenth, the Dutch designer behind women’s wear designer label Janboelo also noted that he was not necessarily looking for buyers at CHIC. “You have to be careful to make sure that you find the partner to do business with and that your collections end up in the right store which reflects your brand,” he said to FashionUnited.
“I would be happy to come away from this experience with 2 to 3 good solid contacts.” The majority of the brands showing at the Dutch pavilion were very impressed with CHIC and had good, positive impressions of their first time exhibiting at the trade fair, with the area attracting a lot of attention throughout the three day event. Some even placed a number of orders at CHIC, even if this was not their main goal, according to the trade fair organisation. However, some brands did mention a small fear of their designs being copied by Chinese designers, Drenth shrugged it off. “I am not too worried about copycats here because you can’t copy quality from a photo. I do everything by hand, and it will be very hard for a Chinese designer to copy that!” However, he does note that is is important to protect a brand’s intellectual property, especially overseas, and applied for trademark protection for his designs before he went to China.
CHIC attracts higher number of quality buyers, agents and retailers
Jelle van der Zwet, co-founder of men’s wear suit brand Opposuits revealed he also carried a small fear of being copied at CHIC. “But honestly, I think the threat level is the same as it would be at Magic (Las Vegas fashion trade fair), so it really depends on your strategy, trademark and licensing you carry out to protect the brand.” Other local brands, such as B2B fashion platform DesignBox also implanted a no-photo decree, which is said to show respect to the designers work and protect the design itself, explained a designer. With CHIC being open to both industry professionals, as well as visitors in general, exhibitors sometimes question the calibre of the visitors attending the trade fair. “It seems as if last year there was a higher number of accessories and footwear buyers,” said Shunyan Ho, senior sales executive for UK brand Glamorous. “There also seems to be more people coming by just looking for a hand out rather than interested in doing business with us.”
Last year, one of the main goals set out by Dapeng and his team was to improve the calibre of buyers at CHIC, something he believes they have achieved. “We have attracted higher qualified buyers this year, as that is the important part of CHIC this year - to support the Chinese retailing system - which is undergoing a transformation stage at the moment. I think it is very important for them to know about overseas buyers and be able to use multichannel retailing to attract all buyers, international and Chinese.” The head of CHIC acknowledges the importance of e-commerce amongst the Chinese fashion market, but points out that its growth is also slowing down as more mature consumers seek out the best in quality, service and design both online and off.
Brands need to work out the "right way" to grow in China
But m-commerce still on the rise in China, more and more brands embrace social media platforms such as WeChat as the perfect place to connect with local consumers and promote the brand. “You never learn about these things if you stay in the Netherlands,” said Drenth, who highlighted the Chinese consumer of WeChat, a social media platform. “I made a WeChat and Weibo profile for the brand and sent out invitations to visit our stand at CHIC and seen a great response. It is good for growth and having a deeper connection with your consumers as it is a channel that connects very well to the mentality of the Chinese.” Ivan Lou, managing director of Chinese brand Anjaylia noted that Chinese brand use a lot of technology and digital media to gain exposure. “Plus, WeChat is better for communication with your consumers than Facebook as you can speak more directly to them.”
However Dapeng does not think that every brand needs a social media presence to succeed in China. “But brands should not isolate themselves either. They need to work out what is the right way for them to grow in China and not push themselves to have an omnichannel presence.” Finding out the best way to grow in China may be different for each brand, domestic or international, but CHIC aims to continue to act as a guidance for all. "China is an open country. We welcome all countries and brand who wish to come and enter the Chinese market."