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Sketchy future: The difficulties faced by young Shanghai designers
It’s not an easy journey for Shanghai’s up-and-coming designers as we discover talking to three of the city's promising talents
An unconventional runway, Champagne and a groovy DJ: Flower Girl is the first independent runway show from Shanghai-born designer Vincent Zhou. By the end of the catwalk session, some of his ready-to-wears had already been booked. Zhou, however, is worried. "I spent all my savings on this event. I need to make serious money to get my next fashion show rolling."
Although Shanghai is often seen as a launch pad for Chinese up-and-coming designers, the adage that success is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration holds true for nearly all the city's fledgling designers.
Money, for events as well as daily expenses, is one issue for Zhou, and business expertise is another. "I know how to design, but I need professional advice on marketing, event organization and even business development," Zhou confesses. But there is little support available for up-and-coming designers in Shanghai.
Like Vincent Zhou, He Yan, one of Shanghai's most visible indie designers, needs more than just design expertise to help her career. "If I could choose one thing to help my business, that would definitely be people," she told us in her studio boutique. "I've tried to market my own designs, but realized I didn't like it and I'm not as effective as I need to be."
She can create awe-inspiring silhouettes, but like many other fashion talents, He cannot afford professional marketing which leaves her in a difficult catch-22. "It's very expensive to hire real talent and there's no way I can afford it right now, but without it, how do I get my designs seen?"
"The other designers and I knew the Qingpu government had already paid, so we said no." Finally, she still had to cover the fee for some models. "It's quite a lot of money for me."— May Jiang
Shanghai Fashion Week’s a bust
Shanghai's biannual fashion week is considered by some to be a good stepping stone for up-and-coming designers. He disagrees: "I've been invited by Shanghai Fashion Week a few times, but I said no to all of [the invitations]. I don't think it can bring me any substantial benefit. There are no good fashion buyers or department stores present yet."
He isn't alone in her view of fashion week. May Jiang, who attended the last fashion week, told us she wouldn't consider returning any time soon. Jiang was invited by the Qingpu government to use local textiles to design costumes and showcase them in Shanghai Fashion Week. She later was told to pay a five-digit fee to the organizer.
"The other designers and I knew the Qingpu government had already paid, so we said no." Finally, she still had to cover some of the models' fees. "It's quite a lot of money for me."
Shanzhai hits home
Jiang started her own menswear label COMING Homme last year. She views a healthy business chain as the biggest challenge. "In Shanghai, most people still prefer shanzhai goods like shanzhai Western fashion brands to local indie designer labels, which makes things hard on local designers. The market here needs time to develop."
Her biggest wish now is to find a free booth in a shopping mall. She also hopes to see the establishment of designer agencies in Shanghai. "I've seen them in Korea. Those agencies recommend fashion designers to top-notch international fashion weeks. All they charge is a cut on the profit the fashion week brings in to you."
He Yan agrees with Jiang's suggestion. "I would definitely register at such an agency."
Being an up-and-coming designer in Shanghai has a glamorous side, but there are countless challenges behind the gloss. Clearly, the city has a long way to go in becoming a real fashion capital.
He Yan Studio
1/F, Bldg. 3, 1390 Huaihai Zhong Lu
tel +86 21 6433 1911
Vincent Zhou: firstname.lastname@example.org
May Jiang: email@example.com