The nascent market of professional image consulting is gaining traction in China.
Appropriate attire is of great importance for affluent Chinese, who are increasingly turning to professional stylists to help compose their image. Image consultants provide clients with invaluable advice to ensure they are dressed with poise and elegance. They are also salespeople, providing clothing recommendations to clients straight off their company’s racks and customizing outfits to better suit the clients’ needs. Since the products and services consultants often reach hundreds or thousands of dollars, their clients are primarily successful business professionals of both genders.
The Beijing-based Principle M is one such service available to Chinese consumers. With just 100 clients, primarily young professional men in the fields of finance or law, the two-year-old company has a small, upper-middle-class clientele. But it does provide exceptional resources for its clients, such as made-to-measure suits made from Italian Dino Filarte wool. Though it sees consultancy service as an added value to its custom-made clothing, the company’s consultants, like Elsa Zheng, provide consistently helpful advice for young men wanting a sleeker look.
“Normal Chinese companies have this uniform, and it’s a very boxy suit. Most of them are black or charcoal, they’re very big and sloppy,” Zheng said in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily. “Some of them even get married in that suit. So for me, it’s really easy for me to improve their image because the starting point is really not [good].”
Melly International, also Beijing-based, caters to a much larger group of consumers, boasting over 3,000 clients. The company offers free consultations — founder Wang Xiaocan says Chinese consumers would be turned off by up-front consultation fees — but customers can also pay for longer training sessions that cover not only style, but also professional behavior and manners of speech, among other things. The company also imports over a dozen fine fabrics for its suits, and produces silk and other Chinese fabrics in the “traditional centers of production” of Hangzhou and Suzhou. Demand for the company’s products and services is so great that new clients often wait three months before they can get an appointment, according to Wang.
While such companies are showing great success, they cater to a niche market. For this reason, marketing and promotion is often difficult; both Principle M and Melly International “rely almost solely on word-of-mouth referrals.”
image credit: south granville