The story of Ms MIN began in Fuzhou, a city far from the catwalks of New York. It began during her secondary school life, when a teenage Liu Min used to accompany her mother to shop for fabrics that were then tailor-made into unique garments. This mutual interest led her towards a future path to the design world.
After a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design of Women’s wear from London College of Fashion, Liu Min’s own brand was launched in 2010 — Ms MIN.
Ms MIN’s style grew in prominence with its ability to thread global influences through diverse, seasonal collections. With artistic Chinoiserie and bespoke embellishment through crisp tailoring and custom prints, Liu’s signature line blends modernity with tradition, innovation with classicism.
It was these qualities which took the brand to Lane Crawford department stores in 2013, which led to international attention, including featuring at Anna Wintour’s Met Gala in New York in 2014, and later being shortlisted for the LVMH prize in 2016, shortly before opening the Ms MIN flagship boutique in Shanghai.
More recently, a collaboration of Ms MIN x M·A·C (Min Liu for M·A·C), with a limited cosmetics collection launched globally, and a shoe collaboration with Birkenstock drew wide acclaim.
We took the chance to speak to Liu Min about the current aspects of China’s design world.
Has the demographic of your customers changed in recent years to now? How are your sales split to your consumer?
The demographic has definitely changed as the brand positioning has changed. Ms MIN entered the market in 2010 as a contemporary brand and has since graduated to the designer category.
I believe that many customers have grown up with the brand, while at the same time we have attracted a new [type of] customer. The Ms MIN Customer is one who makes very confident buying decisions, she knows what she likes and what she expects from her clothes… she is not a fashion victim but appreciates design and quality. I like to think of them as a tribe of like-minded women.
Regarding online versus retail , Ms MIN started online and as such we have a strong online following. Online sales account for about 40% of our business.
With the various choice of selling via Tmall, JD.com, WeChat, your own website etc., what choice did you make, and why was this way preferable for you?
Currently are on Taobao and Tmall, quite simply because we started on Taobao. At a time when it was considered by many not to be the right move, we grew a loyal fan base on Taobao and it proved to be the right decision. Taobao and Tmall are platforms of familiarity and convenience for a lot of people, so as such, we consider it a service to be there for our customers. Our customers appreciate the convenience.
What kinds of marketing are most effective for you? Do you do any online ads, do you work with KOLs?
Ms MIN has always taken quite an organic approach to marketing. We prefer not to scream too loud and let the clothes do the talking.
We have not advertised to date, but have worked selectively with KOLs. Because we started online, and even though we have a healthy retail distribution with excellent partners, we believed we needed a brick and mortar space to tell our story in our way. This too has proved to be the right move for us and we intend to open more retail locations, as well as shop in shops with key partners.
Collaborations have also been good for our marketing. Last year’s MAC Collaboration brought quite a bit of attention to the brand as did the LVMH PRIZE nomination. We have an upcoming Chinese New Year Pop Up shop with Lane Crawford and a collaboration with Birkenstock.
Do you take show your collections at Fashion Weeks worldwide? Are you involved in Shanghai Fashion Week, and how have you noticed that changing recently?
We have shown our collections in New York and in Paris during fashion weeks for the past three years, and this season for Autumn 2018 will be the last time we show the collection in New York, as we will stay focused on Paris.
As far as Shanghai Fashion Week , we did an event in April 2017 with the MAC Collaboration and this past season with our Birkenstock Collaboration. Shanghai Fashion Week has really picked up momentum over the past few seasons, becoming more and more energetic.
Going from being a designer to a business / business owner, what were the lessons that you learned, or what had you not expected?
Being a designer and being a business owner are two separate things and require both the left and right brain as well as experience and know how. I started the business on my own, which was challenging, but through a lot of hard work I managed to succeed. Later I was fortunate to have my life-partner join me to take over the running of the business so that I could focus on design. I’m still very involved in the running of the business, I feel a designer has to be.
It’s a business after all, so balancing art and commerce is what it’s all about.
The physical retail space started slow and took its time, just as the online business did. The difference is that you are truly facing your customers daily, thus in the retail environment, their demands are even higher.