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Upstarts nip at top fashion brands

By Sun Yuanqing | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2017-02-26 15:06

Luxury brands are being shunted aside by shoppers as unique designer goods edge into their territory

For China's young fashionistas, shopping malls seem to have lost some of their sparkle, clogged up as they are with shops selling luxury brands that seem barely distinguishable from each other. These shoppers are now switching to multibrand boutiques with wares more in line with their personal tastes.

Such shops have grown rapidly over the past decade, offering unique designer pieces at a fraction of the price of the big-brand items.

Shanghai has the most multibrand fashion boutiques, with 69, followed by Beijing at 56, and Guangzhou at 27, according to a 2015 report by the China Commercial Property Research Center.

 Upstarts nip at top fashion brands

Artoriz, a new multibrand jewelry boutique.


Unlike luxury goods customers, these shoppers buy for themselves rather than for others and are barely affected by widespread economic cooling, the report suggested. With strong personal taste and independent judgment, they are also less prone to go on overseas shopping sprees, the report said.

"The designer brands, with their unique style, good prices and quality, are exactly what shoppers need today," says Iris Xu, a partner in the fashion boutique Any Shop Style, who used to work in public relations for the French cosmetics company L'Oreal. The store now works with about 300 designers, Xu says. "These are people who are fashionable and well-educated. They travel frequently and are open-minded. They are capable of buying luxury brands, but they are also open to buying new brands.

"Any Shop Style doesn't just consider how well-known a designer is. We rely on sales figures to decide whether this is the right choice for our store."

Building on its previous success, the store recently opened a new outlet in Beijing that sells designer jewelry.

Lane Crawford, an upscale multibrand fashion boutique with branches in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, combines fashion with art and music to create what it says is a unique shopping ambience. The store also has personal stylists who provide consulting services.

Customers who used to rely on top luxury brands are now opening up to the new designer brands, says Irene Lau, China vice-president of Lane Crawford.

"That's what our stylists are there for. Thanks to their guidance, customers are getting to know more emerging brands, and we are happy to be playing a role in educating the market."

These stores have also become a hotbed for emerging designers.

Lane Crawford offers more than 1,000 designer brands covering womenswear, menswear, cosmetics, jewelry and homeware. It also has exclusive crossover collaborations with the designers.

Through the Created in China project, it has introduced brands to the market such as Ms MIN, Comme Moi, Helen Lee, Ziggy Chen and Uma Wang.

At the same time, Dong Liang, a boutique dedicated to Chinese designers, has become a trendsetter in the independent designer scene. The store has been presenting new designers not only in its boutiques but also at Shanghai Fashion Week. Dong Liang hosts the One Day event that is part of Fashion Week, introducing designers such as He Yan and Sankuanz.

Apart from putting on fashion shows, the event also helps promote designers with innovative multimedia presentations.

The department store Galeries Lafayette Beijing has joined the initiative, and Chinese designer brands such as Chictopia and Vega Zaishi Wang all have independent boutiques in the French store.

Beijing SKP, the luxury shopping destination, has developed its own multibrand boutique, SKP Select, offering products from the newer brands.

The emergence of multibrand boutiques is changing retailing in smaller cities, Ding Meimei, chief executive of DFO Showroom, said recently in the trade magazine Business of Fashion.

As the market in tier-one cities becomes oversaturated, these stores are now expanding to smaller cities such as Chengdu, Shenzhen and Guiyang. There are not enough customers there for brands to open independent stores, but the potential does exist, Ding says. With ample space, these stores become a shop window for the new designers, she says.

Even though retail in China faces tough times, there are still new companies keen to take advantage of the spending power of the middle class. Shenzhen Hemei Group, which makes smart electrical meters, switched its focus from manufacturing to the fashion industry by setting up a new multibrand jewelry boutique, Artoriz.

The company has joined forces with Bluebell, a Hong Kong branding company that has represented brands such as LV, Fendi and Loewe in China. The brand has signed with 34 designers from both home and abroad, offering jewelry to the young middle class.

"There are established brands and boutiques for clothing in China, but for jewelry there are few," says Shirley Zhang, creative director of Artoriz and a renowned jewelry designer. "We want to build a platform for the young brands. We believe that these designers, each catering to a small crowd, will eventually win over a huge market."

The store has played a role in the success of designers such as Xu Ke and Zhang Baohua. It opened its first two stores in Shenzhen and Shanghai, followed by pop-up stores in New York and Hainan.

These days stores are not just stores: They go beyond fashion to offer a wider experience.

The phenomenal fashion and art concept store from Milan, 10 Corso Como, opened a store in Beijing in 2014 after opening one in Shanghai. The store partners with Trendy International Group, a Chinese fashion retailer that owns fashion brands including Ochirly and Five Plus, in its development in China.

Taking after its Milanese progenitor, the store offers a shopping experience that combines fashion, design, art and dining.

"The idea of 'slow shopping' and creating an entire sensory experience seems to translate well in China," founder Carla Sozzani told China Daily after the Beijing store opened. "It is meant to offer an experience for the five senses and the mind together. What we always hope to bring to any city is an interest in lifestyle and values beyond the trendy and fashionable."

The idea of integrative retail space is also being adopted by more business owners.

Brand New China, a pioneer in China's multibrand retail market, is now undergoing a revamp. Founded in 2010 by publisher Hong Huang, the store has been a springboard for emerging young designers.

The store is now transforming from a fashion boutique to a lifestyle experience center that offers everything from ceramics to bicycles and kitchenware. The store also plans to expand its space for art exhibitions and other kinds of events.

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