What’s the difference between made in China and made in Italy? Well, the prevailing thought is one is cheap goods and the other is exclusive and expensive. That perception is about to change.
An emerging crop of homegrown brands are being revamped into products that are cool and avant garde according to today’s trendhunters who see this as some kind of renaissance.
This trend is the beginnings of an image makeover for Chinese consumer goods, both locally and internationally.
China has started to harness talented young designers and honed the art of branding for the home market and abroad. It’s a new moment but one that is about to become a new era as well. Made in China will eventually shift from a drawback perception to one of style, quality and price.
Examples? These are just a few of the brands redefining made in China:
Feiyue: This was the unremarkable lightweight “shoe from Shanghai” but found a following among hip local Shanghainese and foreigners. Recently, the company went for a French-inspired redesign. The new-look shoe, urban, sleek, yet durable, is a winner globally. The shoe retails in Paris, Marseilles, Bordeaux and other cities in France. Recently Feiyue won prime placement at London’s Selfridges.
Shang Xia: Its choice of words to define itself for the sophisticated Chinese lifestyle. “Chinese and Asian Heritage Crafted for Contemporary Lifestyle.” Amongst its wares, for example, is a trove of eggshell porcelain bowls, bamboo and cashmere.
Forever: This legendary bike brand offers a good example of how Chinese retailers now are leveraging the fine art of nostalgia as a marketing tool. Its announcement last summer that it was taking its “old tanks” models and reviving them into a modern series called Forever C was a winning move. Under the Forever C brand, young designers came up with slick, modern bikes.
Septwolves: This is a famous men’s clothing maker in China. Some of its ads are smartly evocative of suave Chinese males in casual clothes fit for private clubs, casinos, and cocktails on a deserted beach, when not busy looking through telescopes or winning the hearts of beautiful women. Septwolves has expanded into womens wear and childrens wear.
JNBY: This Hangzhou-based fashion label is an example of a homegrown brand that speaks to this generation’s fashion forward crowd. It sees “a future in which fashion is the product of a youthful design collective,” noted the New York Times. Its designs are worn in Shanghai, Tokyo and Paris. The company operates some 600 stores worldwide and opened a loft-like boutique in New York’s SoHo, its first in the U.S. “It’s an example of how good Chinese fabrication can be,” said Lin Lin, co-founder of the design group Jellymon. “The design is quite simple, yet avant garde. They’ve made an excellent transition from manufacturer to brand builder.”
Branding success on the local scene aside, could version 2.0 of made in China mean genuine competition with world-famous brands overseas?
Feiyue as a centerpiece shoe sitting in London’s Oxford Street may just be a drop in the bucket. According to Shaun Rein of China Market Research Group, just over 50 percent of executives at consumer product companies surveyed said they expected to enter the American market in five years. Rein reckons that in ten years’ time Chinese brands will sit alongside American brands on store shelves.
And those shelves will not all be at WalMarts. “Up and coming Chinese brands are no longer positioning themselves as ‘cheap but good enough,’” said Rein. “Younger brands are impressive and ambitious and can go head to head with foreign brands on equal footing.”
photo credit: feiyue, forever, jnby