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Fashion careers: Fashion buying and e-commerce with Club Designer's Hsin Chen

By Aileen Yu



Club Designer is a family owned luxury concept boutique with locations in downtown Taipei that carries numerous brands from designers Alaia to The Row as well as high-end streetwear label Mastermind World Japan. As one of Taiwan’s largest private buyers of international brands, Club Designer started collaborating with Farfetch in 2016 and today has an entirely integrated business on the London-based e-commerce platform. FashionUnited recently caught up with the founder’s daughter, Hsin Chen, who serves as Club Designer’s Operations Director and Buyer to learn the ins and outs of fashion buying and gain insight into how a privately owned boutique store has evolved with the emergence of e-commerce.

How has e-commerce affected your business?

E-business is like another shop for Club Designer and brings new opportunities for small and medium-sized fashion companies like ours. However, the competition is extremely tough on e-commerce platforms as you need to set a profitable price point and the dispatch time is also extremely important.

Can you tell us about the collaboration with Farfetch and how it is integrated into Club Designer’s current business model?

Farfetch has allowed us to explore new markets and provides another selling channel for us. It’s a great platform, but requires a lot of effort and is very labor intensive. In order to be effective enough, we actually created a set of SOP so that the shop floor and the e-commerce team can work efficiently and seamlessly together. However, every e-commerce platform comes with a cost. The return rate is something that we need to constantly monitor and the frequent sales Farfetch champions online have also dramatically reduced our profit margins.

We also recognize that customer experience and the pricing strategy have a great impact on our sales too. Therefore, the road to being successful in e-commerce for us is by constantly reviewing our strategy to adapt to the ever-changing market. We have been working with Farfetch for almost 3 years now and as far as I can see the platform for us is mature. It brings consistent sales and has fully integrated into the main part of our business; however, it will never replace Club Designer’s brick-and-mortar stores.

How was Club Designer founded?

Club Designer was founded in 1981 and we have been the pioneer in introducing high-end luxury brands to Taipei’s elite consumers ever since. Our exquisite flagship store is located in the Da’an district of Taipei and presents a gallery-like space consisting of 5 floors, each with its own unique feeling. The founder is my mother, Lilian Kao, she continues to curate emerging designers alongside well-known brands and recently added homeware and lifestyle products.

Can you tell us about your background, did you study fashion?

I lived in the UK for 25 years and was a lecturer for 10 years after receiving my PhD in Information Systems. I was also a journal editor and author of many publications about e-commerce. While I was in London I had the chance to get to know Farfetch and saw the potential of the platform. For SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) that have little knowledge yet limited resources for running their own e-commerce business, Farfetch provides an entry into this realm. I foresaw that Farfetch could help Club Designer become the pioneering luxury boutique from Taiwan that collaborates with an international online shopping platform. In 2016, I made the decision to move back to Taipei and joined our family fashion business as the Operations Director.

Besides being the Operations Director, can you tell us about your experience as a Buyer for Club Designer?

Even when I lived in London, I often joined my family for buying trips. Now, I act as one of the buyers for the company too. I love shopping personally; however, buying for the store is a completely different matter. You bear greater responsibility and you're really testing your fashion sense. Having lived in Europe most of my life, I take inspiration from Art Deco style furniture to the graffiti on London’s Shoreditch Street; all these influences have helped me develop the ability to trend spot and an eye for fashion. Since Club Designer’s products are largely curated by the buyers, my international experience and e-commerce background has brought our customers a wider and more diversified angle of the fashion world.

How do you decide which brands and designers to feature in your store?

From time to time, up-and-coming brands will send us lookbooks and we will decide which ones look interesting for Club Designer. There are fixed brands we always feature because we’ve been working with them for a long time. In this case, building a good relationship with the brands is something that a buyer needs to maintain and continue to develop. Every season, we also add a few new brands and drop brands that have underperformed. Our customers are always looking for something new and different.

What challenges do you face as a buyer for Club Designer?

As a buyer, you not only need to know what can easily be sold, but you also need to have an image in your mind as to what items will create the best visual presentation on the shop floor. It’s like gambling, as you can never exactly predict which brand will be the season’s bestseller. You also need to keep a detailed inventory of which items you have ordered before and keep track of each brand’s profitability. This will help with the selection process.

Another challenge as a buyer is when the collection is uninspiring, but you still need to select pieces from it that will suit the store (since we act as curators for our customers). That can be very frustrating and not much fun at all, especially when I know there’s a high chance the items will not sell. Brands can be quite pushy which is understandable because they need the business.

Who are Club Designer’s customers and how do you know what they are looking for?

We have a group of super VIPs of Club Designer and our target customers are mostly between the ages of 30 to 60 and above. Our sales staff report to us on a monthly basis the customer feedback and what they liked or disliked. This is how we find out what sort of products our customers are looking for.

Having said that, shoppers can change their mind very quickly and are influenced by what is trending on Facebook or Instagram. Therefore, setting trends and educating our customers are also very important. So rather than just finding out what they are looking for, we also tell them what is right for them. We at Club Designer believe everyone can look beautiful, unique and fabulous!

This interview was created in cooperation with Club Designer to promote working in fashion.

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Photos: courtesy of Club Designer
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