China’s Fashion Brands Go Global

Chinese down jacket giant Bosideng showed at Milan Fashion Week for the first time this season, with Kendall Jenner on the runway. Kelly Lim and Roger Tredre report on Chinese brands’ readiness to make an impact on the international stage.

Supermodel Kendall Jenner on the runway in Milan – a familiar spectacle. But what’s the brand she’s wearing? The new name (to many Westerners, at least) is Bosideng, a Chinese label making a high-profile statement this September at the heart of the European fashion scene.

Bosideng is not primarily a designer fashion company. It’s a mainstream apparel business with sales of over $1.5 billion that makes down jackets for millions of Chinese as well as a growing number of global consumers. However, in recent years the company has launched upscale products and the company is putting a stronger emphasis on creativity.

The brand’s debut at Milan Fashion Week this month included a dazzling assemblage of down jacket looks inspired by Italian artist Ottavio Fabbri, dubbed the ‘Starmaker’ for his night sky works. Fabbri’s Starry Sky painting, created especially for the collaboration, provided the hyper-luminous pattern seen all over the starry duvet coats sent down the runway.

The new men’s and women’s outerwear collection, shown at Milan’s Triennale Design Museum, explored the idea of being close to nature under the theme ‘Starry Sky, Extreme Cold and Vast Land’. Embossed patterns of auroras, stars and bamboo forests were combined with high-tech performance materials in the form of reflective fabrics and biodegradable fibers, exploring the intersection of ancient civilization and modern technology and a point of union between eastern and western cultures.

Photo: Bosideng

Bosideng’s familiar sporty-chic functionality was displayed in long parkas, hooded puffer jackets and padded jumpsuits. An audience including Hollywood star Nicole Kidman and uber-blogger Chiara Ferragni saw a series of inter-galactic looks that marked a very confident debut for the brand in Europe.

Chinese companies know that creativity is the way forward if they are to make an impact beyond their domestic market. And creativity can also boost sales at home: last October, Bosideng launched capsule collections in collaboration with Tim Coppens, Antonin Tron and Ennio Capasa for the Chinese market. More are on the way.

Chinese fashion brands are looking for international growth for a variety of reasons. To some extent, they simply need to look abroad because the bigger companies have less room for further growth in their own crowded market. There’s also a need to look elsewhere as China’s economy shows signs of slowing down.

Photo: Bosideng

In recent years, Bosideng has been steadily extending its footprint around the world step by step – at the last count, it has a presence in 72 countries. A show at New York Fashion Week in September 2018 suggested the company was ready to make a bigger splash, confirmed by this month’s Milan debut.

The Bosideng international story has had hiccups. The company opened a flagship shop in 2013 on London’s South Molton Street. Despite creating a collection designed specifically for the European market, the brand failed to appeal to Londoners: the shop closed in 2017, although it has since discreetly reopened as a much smaller unit and is reported to be prospering. Bosideng chairman Gao Dekang, who started out in business with a few sewing machines back in the 1980s, is philosophical about the experience, saying it was a valuable learning process for the brand.

The Chinese mainstream companies are watching each others’ steps abroad with interest. Names tipped for growth include: Urban Revivo, which has a shop in Westfield London; Peacebird, which has shown in New York; Ochirly, owned by Trendy Group; and Me & City, owned by Metersbonwe.

Photo: Bosideng

Meanwhile, an increasing number of Chinese designers are making an impact in the West. London Fashion Week is the chosen showcase for designer Huishan Zhang, while London this season also featured a presentation by Caroline Hu, winner of the first BoF China Prize. Angel Chen, the Central Saint Martins-trained designer from Shenzhen, showed in Milan the day before Bosideng. Multi-award winning designer Uma Wang remains a regular at the Paris shows, showing on September 26. Jarel Zhang, the designer from Zhejiang, is staging his second Paris show on October 1.

And it’s not just shows – more Chinese designers are opening shops in the West. One of the latest is Tangy, the Shenzhen-based label led by designer Liang Zi, which makes elegant clothes in traditional gambiered silk. It has opened a store in Paris in rue de Verneuil on the Left Bank.

One way and another, there’s a sense of momentum building. Chinese fashion’s development on the global stage may be a theme of the 2020s.


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