Sure, there is the “Made in China” stigma to contend with, but luxury brands that have had the courage and the creativity to launch their labels in the Middle Kingdom may be the ones to change the face of luxury. A burgeoning economy, close access to manufacturing, and a desire for something new in the Chinese luxury fashion landscape have helped several Chinese brands to become key players in the accessories field.
“Just over 25 years ago, the population was heavily conformist — there was no individualism or customization, everyone was wearing blues and grays,” said shoe designer Alison Yeung, known in the industry as China’s Jimmy Choo. “Now it’s all changing, women want something new, daring and exciting, and we’re providing it and enjoying the freedom as much as the population is.”
By being able to manufacture her shoes in China, Yeung believes that the Chinese market has come to embrace the brand as their own. And there are more tangible perks. “Working in China means we have a much closer proximity to our sources —rather than e-mailing the factory, we can visit them and physically touch the product,” she said.
But as Currie Lee, another China-based accessories designer, points out, the proximity to manufacturing can sometimes be a detriment. Her Beijing-based handbag brand, D-Sata, has suffered due to the ease with which the Chinese can create replica bags. “Although counterfeiting is a concern in many other countries, due to the large number of factories in China, it has been challenging as there have been several instances of friends or clients visiting factories or trade shows and seeing counterfeit D-Sata accessories,” she said.
This risk is overshadowed by the enthusiasm that new Chinese fashionistas have for the D-Sata brand, which caters to socialites and celebrities. “Our customers no longer need to prove their worth with luxury labels and ‘statement pieces’ but are rather seeking a ‘conversation piece’ that no one else has,” Lee said. “Our clients are too sophisticated to ‘status shop,’ and for them Hermès, Birkins, and Kellys are no longer exclusive as they are everywhere,” Lee said.
D-Sata collections are limited in size to three to six minaudières or around 12 to 15 for other models. The prices range from $150 to $5,000, with the most expensive creations being made from the recycled materials from exotic animals eaten at local restaurants.
“By working in China, we’ve come to be accepted as a Chinese brand. As of recently, there is a new generation of luxury stirring up in China with an increased interest from discerning luxury consumers in ‘buying local’ and supporting local talent. It’s the perfect place to be at this time. We have the advantage of being based in Shanghai, but also having an international outlook,” Yeung said.
photo credit: mary ching, d-sata