The Luxury Conversation in Shanghai, with the UK Department for International Trade Retail Mission to China

The Luxury Conversation held a special event with InStyle China and FASHION IS GREAT this week in Shanghai. Coinciding with a China Retail Mission organised by the UK Department for International Trade, CEOs and executives from some of Britain’s best loved fashion brands attended the event at the ‘by FANG’ Villa to gain genuine understanding about China from industry experts.

The event began with a panel discussion, hosted by Chloé Reuter (Founder of Reuter Communications), with panelists Jerri Ng (Editor in Chief, InStyle China), Yu Yu (one of China’s leading Fashion KOLs) and Fanny Fan (the Ballroom, a styling content platform). Following the panel, Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council sat down with InStyle China’s Jerri Ng for an in-depth discussion about fashion and China-UK exchange.

The event was held at the exquisite villa of ‘by FANG‘. Fang Yang is one of China’s leading fashion designers. Born in China, Fang studied Fashion at ESMOD in Paris. Inspired by the creative energy in Shanghai, she returned in 2013 to establish her brand, by FANG. In 2015 she was invited by Swarovski to join the first Asia Swarovski Collective, a program to support emerging talent, the same program that revealed Alexander McQueen in 1999.

Left to Right; Chloé Reuter, Fanny Fan, Jerri Ng and Yu Yu. Photos credit: Aleksandar Carevic

With the understanding that KOLs are the key to connecting to Chinese Millennials, the audience was keen to look at how best brands can work with them – wherein lies the ideal balance of organic content with the message that the brand wants to get across? The message here was clear — that the KOL needs space. “Give us a keyword, and I can play with that,” explained Yu Yu. “I can only write what I believe in, because that’s what my Followers want. They can’t be fooled by forced content that they know isn’t genuinely from me. Brands understand that we need space, and that we will only do what works for us. For example, I worked with a major British fashion brand previously, and I have to say that the photography that they gave me wasn’t great. I had to tell them that honestly, I couldn’t use it!”

Jerri Ng completely agreed with this sentiment, confirming “this is what we mean by authenticity. And for brands, if the message is the same across a variety of KOLs, then you gain nothing. Brands should seek the different views and different resulting content from different KOLs.”

Another angle that’s vital for overseas brands to click with when coming into China is that the country is now a leader in many aspects of pioneering digital technologies and how they can be applied by luxury brands.

Jerri explained just one innovation that InStyle China is developing on their WeChat, explaining that she “doesn’t like to receive so many push-notifications — it just gets too much. So now are developing targeted notifications that are relevant. For example, when readers arrive in London and turn on their phones, they might a message which lets them find the London or UK-specific information that they want. If readers can opt in or out as they wish, from a variety of options, they only receive what they want. That’s the power of WeChat these days.”

Caroline Rush joined the event for a ‘fireside chat’. Introducing the British Fashion Council’s China plans, Caroline explained that it’s about creating the channels for emerging British brands and talents to enter China — and vice-versa. While in the past they have collaborated with Lane Crawford, Caroline pointed out that “now it’s all about e-commerce.”

The British Fashion Council has partnered with JD.com. An audience member wondered about the difference between JD.com and Tmall for luxury brands, to which Caroline explained that while both have their merits, JD.com was chosen as the partner for a few reasons — they guaranteed authenticity of product across the platform, they linked in with Shanghai Fashion Week nicely, and that crucially, they had agreed to sharing information back to the British Fashion Council and British design brands. In this way the designers and companies could gain the critical analysis into their targets, demographics and key data.

Caroline Rush with Jerri Ng

The chat moved on to the expertise of Jerri Ng and InStyle China, with some Q&A that led to a few insightful comments. The influence and power of InStyle China should not be under-estimated. It is one of the leading fashion media in China, and Jerri’s experience spans all of the world’s largest fashion markets, with the top global brands working with InStyle (and InStyle China’s e-commerce channels), and global organisations such as the British Fashion Council turning to Jerri for collaborations.

What is the view of British brands in the eyes of Chinese luxury consumers?

British labels are known for their craftsmanship and for being quintessentially English with a twist, such as Burberry Icons like the Royal family remain very popular. Even places like Shoreditch are now on the map! I went there in the 90s and couldn’t have imagined that it would have become what it is today. That type of street image and cool vibe is still uniquely British. Personally I have always seen London as the incubator for amazing talent and creativity.

How do British brands and organisations tap into the curiosity of Chinese Millennials?

Well, having more of a presence in China and working closely with the Chinese media. InStyle China started collaborating with the BFC last September and since then we have been sending our editors and influencers to LFW. I definitely feel there’s a renewed interest in LFW.

What are you developing in the media at present? What are people looking for ‘next’?

The important question would be how you present your content and integrate the various platforms seamlessly. At InStyle China print and digital is one world and fully integrated. We do it simply by using QR codes — this is the part where knowing your market is key. QR codes are relevant in China and that’s why it works for us — and we continue to push the boundaries and experiment with technology. I feel the “next” would be customisation.

As well as everything discussed, what is the real thing that foreign brands should know?

Know the market inside out on a ground level, and understand the culture!

The Retail Mission was attended by key people from high-end British brands, such as John Smedley, Lulu Guinness, Cambridge Satchel, Gladstone London, Tom Dixon, Tateossian and Olivia Von Halle, with the Luxury Conversation talk also being attended by Santandar, L’Oreal and a variety of brands and media.

One guest was Bill Leach, Global Sales Director of John Smedley. He explained how the brand is rich with heritage and history, and that they have the claim of being the company that has been making its product at the same place, for the longest period of time, worldwide. John Smedley started making fine knitwear over 230 years ago, and they now employ over 300 people at the same Derby home. We discused how heritage is certainly a watchword, and even a nice ‘quirk’ of Britishness that attracts Chinese consumers to ‘Brand Britain’. Yet British brands can’t rely on heritage — simply put, it’s an important tick to mark off of a British appearance, while brands shouldn’t try to hammer home the heritage! Bill explained to us that entering China carefully was key for the brand — while the fact that at certain times of year, up to 40% of John Smedley’s UK retail store sales are customers from China. That’s a clear nod to the power of Chinese luxury consumers for brands — a figure which tallies quite well with Bain & Co’s 2017 report.

The Retail Mission was an ideal opportunity for brands to gain first-hand, on the ground insights into the world’s largest luxury market, and take back concrete advice and strategies.

To undertake an Immersion Tour for your own organisation, please contact us.

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