Despite Store Closures, Niche Brands Can Still Make It Big in China

Despite Store Closures, Niche Brands Can Still Make It Big in China

SHANGHAI — Off-White is the latest international fashion brand to scale back its China operations after the country’s key cities went through months-long COVID-19 lockdowns.According to local media reports, the label founded by the late Virgil Abloh recently shut down four stores in Shanghai, Chengdu and Xi’an.
The brand still operates seven stores in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Tianjin, Shenyang and Chengdu.
The store inside Shanghai’s upscale Réel Mall has been replaced with Totême, WWD observed on Tuesday. The only store that remains open in Shanghai is located in Galeries Lafayette Shanghai, which is operated by I.T, the same local retail partner as Off-White.
Both Off-White and I.T did not respond immediately to WWD’s requests for comment.

Industry experts believe the brand remains popular in second- and third-tier cities, but as its China franchise operator I.T goes through a retail reorganization post-lockdown, Off-White’s retail future remains up in the air.

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When Off-White entered the market in 2017, the pop-culture association quickly ignited the interest of young hypebeasts.
The brand expanded to 16 stores by the end of 2020. Its marketing initiatives included a focus on exclusive and limited product offerings in China. But at the time, local media outlets discovered that Off-White-related content is highly associated with keywords like “discount” on Xiaohongshu, the popular social-commerce app.
According to local retail insiders, despite quickly expanding its retail network, the brand fell short on localized branding and content creation.
“Shoppers didn’t truly get the vibe of Off-White to begin with, and in China, the cost of forgetting is extremely low,” said a fashion buyer of a well-known retail operator in Shanghai.

Backstage at Trussardi RTW Fall 2022

Daniele Mango/WWD

But Off-White isn’t alone. Italian luxury label Trussardi also decided to suspend direct operations in China recently. The brand is in the process of closing one directly operated store but retains its franchise and wholesale business in China.
“The strategy has evolved in light of the changing context in the market,” Sebastian Suhl, the brand’s chief executive officer, told WWD at the time.
“The pandemic impacted the whole retail landscape for brands in every segment. That’s the negative side of the story,” said real estate operator URF’s chairman and founder Dickson Szeto.
“But on the other hand, we see brands with a positive attitude that have taken branding and storytelling to the next level. That’s why we also see companies like OTB doubling down on the market. They can capture the opportunities presented by clients who couldn’t travel abroad to shop,” added Szeto.

A look from Nanushka for resort 2023.


Samuel Ross’ fashion venture A-Cold-Wall, Sequoia Capital China-backed South Korean fashion brand We11done, as well as Alexandre Mattiussi’s Ami, British handbag brand By Far, Polish underground club kid favorite Misbhv, and Hungarian label Nanushka under Vanguard Group are some entrants gearing up for brick-and-mortar store launches in the Chinese market this year.
Meanwhile, Holzweiler, the Scandinavian brand recently backed by Sequoia Capital China, plans to open a Tmall store this fall, according to market sources.

Angelica Cheung, venture partner at the firm and founding editor of Vogue China, who just relocated from Beijing to Hong Kong with her family, believes Holzweiler has “a huge opportunity to expand to other parts of the world, especially at a time when audiences value nature, the outdoors, and human connection more than ever before.”

Suzanne, Andreas and Maria Skappel Holzweiler.

Courtesy of Holzweiler

In a post-lockdown China, shifts in consumer attitudes have created space for new players that can fulfill shoppers’ changing style needs.
“Consumer’s emotions are increasingly complex and volatile after the pandemic, leading to more eclectic aesthetic needs,” said Xueying Sun, WGSN China’s senior editor. “We see a return to classics and practicality, and at the same time a call for extremely trendy and artistic designs.”
Sun thinks niche brands need to produce products with “flexible design elements with traffic driving features.”
Szeto said brands “can’t ‘lie flat,’ but must aggressively maintain a positive online attitude, or online storytelling approach.”
For Shanghai-based Julio Ng, executive director of the fashion showroom Seiya Nakamura 2.24, which represents more than 40 brands including Rick Owens, Christopher Kane, Dion Lee, Ganni, Marine Serre, Peter Do, Stefan Cooke and Tomo Koizumi, niche brands must also constantly reinvent their hero products to keep the surprise alive.
“Consumers in China right now have the money to spend. The best way to improve and experience fashion is to spend the money to buy it, wear it and try it,” said Ng.
“But once it’s been worn, its photo has been taken or posted on social media, the value of the pieces decreases. So designers have to reinvent their so-called signature pieces constantly. That’s the most important part,” he added.

Eli Russell Linnetz of ERL.

Dominique MAITRE/WWD

To maintain momentum, Ng thinks brands need to pick up the pace with fresh product releases.
“When the market is saturated, and a brand has not been able to reinvent those bestselling styles, it very often leads to a decline in wholesale. And once that happens, it basically just collapsed everywhere,” said Ng.
Both Szeto and Ng suggest young niche brands take on “short-term activities” such as pop-ups or brand-related in-store activities to make some noise in the market when it reaches peak influence.

For example, the Shanghai-based concept store ENG plans to launch a pop-up for Eli Russell Linnetz’s namesake label ERL this September, while Marine Serre is looking into similar activations in the market.
“But we realized that an installation at a store is not enough. What’s more important is how these installation or community programs tie back to the brand and each of the retailers, VIP customers, or followers,” said Ng.
Initial brand building means maintaining a healthy relationship with seed customers, which includes local celebrities, influencers and VIPs, who will become an asset for niche players to help with organic growth.

Marine Serre, spring 2023

Courtesy of Primexposureimage/Ma

“The brands need to make these people feel like they are a part of the brand family, they are cared for, this is also an important attitude to communicate,” said Szeto.
When the brand sees enough traffic on social media and e-commerce sites like Tmall, there’s a window of time to establish a permanent retail presence in the market.
“Normally, I would say if you reach 1 million euros in wholesale orders in China alone, you can consider finding a Taobao Partner company to set up a Tmall International or Tmall Local online store,” said Ng.
“But if you don’t reach that amount, I would say don’t even think about it, because even though if you set it up, you know you end up spending a lot of money for digital and offline marketing. And you might not even see any sort of payoff,” he added.

Nanushka Resort 2023

Nanushka Resort 2023

Having a baby will change a woman’s perspective on many things.
In Nanushka creative director Sandra Sandor’s case, the way the body “can adapt and change so fast” during pregnancy made her appreciate the beauty in imperfection. She just welcomed a new baby with her husband Peter Baldaszti, cofounder and chief executive officer at Nanushka and parent company Vanguards Group.
Many sexy dresses this time are made in stretchy fabric, while the outerwear comes with a slightly cinched waist design to project a nicer proportion.
She also used asymmetrical silhouettes in necklines, paneling and hems, which she and her team took months to perfect, as well as the abstract illustration of curvacious women seen on a cream shirt to manifest this idea for the resort 2023 collection.
“This collection aims to reevaluate the idealistic perception of what it means for a garment to be beautiful. Like the ethos of the Bauhaus says, if an object is designed to function, well then it will, by definition, be beautiful. I really love that and that’s a valid principle for Nanushka,” Sandor said.

The collection, presented in the form of a look book shot in Portugal, also had a large portion of gender-fluid offerings, as Sandor “really wanted to effortlessly blur the line between femininity and masculinity.”
In terms of accessories, the fringed tote bag, woven from raffia and adorned with tassels across the base, is likely to be a street style must-have next January.

All the Brands That Are Rallying To Support Ukraine

All the Brands That Are Rallying To Support Ukraine

Photo: Getty
Fashion is rallying together in support of Ukraine, with emerging talent platform 1Granary – founded by Ukrainian creative Olya Kuryshchuk – publishing an open letter calling for the industry to unite against the war taking place in the eastern European country.
Major brands like Balenciaga and its parent company Kering were among the first to make public statements calling for peace on their Instagram accounts, and to pledge “a significant donation” to the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugees Agency. LVMH has also announced that it’s donating €5 million (about £4,150) to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), while Erdem has said that it will donate all profits from its flagship store and website this weekend to the British Red Cross’s Ukraine Crisis Appeal.

The most recent announcement has come via retailer H&M, which has announced that it will temporarily suspend all sales in Russia in support of Ukraine, and just hours ago, shapewear brand Skims too shared a message on its Instagram stories, sharing the news that it will be making a donation to World Central Kitchen to support its on-ground efforts in helping the people of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Budapest-based brand Nanushka is partnering with the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta to help provide accommodation, food, clothing and transport for Ukrainian refugees. Ganni has also pledged to donate 100,000 DKK (£11,200) to the Danish Refugee Council, which is working on the ground in Ukraine.

Smaller brands from the fashion, art, and interiors worlds are doing their part to support, too, with a series of charity raffles and auctions taking place online. Below, see 13 independent labels that are supporting the on-going humanitarian efforts in Ukraine and its neighboring countries.

Warsaw-based bag label Chylak has donated all of its profits from last weekend – nearly €10,000 (£8,300) — to charities supporting Ukrainian refugees in Poland, including the Polish Center For International Aid, Polish Humanitarian Action, Rescue Foundation and UNICEF.
Berlin footwear label Aeydē pledged to donate 30 per cent of its net proceeds from last weekend to Aktion Deutschland Hilft, a network of more than 20 organisations providing humanitarian aid to people in Ukraine and refugees in neighbouring countries.
Collina Strada

New York designer Collina Strada has pledged to donate all its sales from this week to United Help Ukraine, a charity helping to provide humanitarian aid and medical supplies on the ground in Ukraine.
Paris-based brand Elleme has set aside all its blue and yellow products on its online store – with 100 per cent of the proceeds from these sales going towards UNICEF’s Ukraine appeal.
Cressida Jamieson
London-based designer Cressida Jamieson has created a T-shirt embroidered with a Choose Love heart in the colours of the Ukrainian flag, to raise money for the charity’s Ukraine Crisis Fundraiser. All proceeds will go towards projects that are providing vital aid and services to those still in Ukraine, as well as those fleeing the country.
Clothes For Progress
Charity resale platform Clothes For Progress has launched a fundraiser for Ukraine, with brands like Ninamounah donating pieces towards the campaign. All funds will go towards United Help Ukraine.
Cawley Studio

Cawley Studio is raffling its Ella vest to raise money for Ukraine, with the UK-based brand raising £4,500 for British Red Cross so far. Each £10 donation counts towards a raffle ticket, with entries closing on Thursday evening.
Les Fleurs Studio
Madrid-based upcycling brand Les Fleurs Studio, founded by stylist and influencer Maria Bernad, is donating all its profits for a week to Razom For Ukraine, a non-profit that is providing critical medical supplies for those in Ukraine.
Heliot Emil

Danish menswear label Heliot Emil has pledged to donate 100 per cent of its pre-order profits from its autumn/winter 2022 collection – which will be shown during Paris Fashion Week on Thursday – to UNICEF, in order to aid humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.
By Alice
Interiors expert Alice Wawrik, the founder of By Alice, is organising an online auction featuring pieces from around 20 independent British homeware brands – including the likes of Matilda Goad, Vaisselle and Straw – in order to raise money for Choose Love’s Ukraine appeal.
Partnership Editions X Venetia Berry

Online art platform Partnership Editions is selling a collection of hand-painted plates by artist Venetia Berry in order to raise money for Ukraine. Twenty per cent of all sales will go to Choose Love’s Ukraine fundraiser.
Albie & Pearl
Vintage homeware site Albie & Pearl – which curates an array of interior gems, from candlesticks to ceramic vases – has pledged to donate 15 per cent of sales from this weekend’s edit towards Choose Love’s Ukraine crisis appeal.
Fred Rigby Studio

London-based furniture designer Fred Rigby Studio is donating 10 per cent of profits from its Raindrop collection – a series of elegant coffee tables and side tables in a range of finishes – towards the British Red Cross’s Ukraine appeal.
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