At Shanghai Fashion Week, a Creative and Business Boom

The scene at Susan Fang’s well-received Shanghai Fashion Week show. Susan Fang Shanghai Fashion Week

The scene at Susan Fang’s well-received Shanghai Fashion Week show. Susan Fang

Shanghai Fashion Week has wrapped its spring 2022 edition, which ran Oct. 8 to 16 and included more than 100 shows on its official calendar, alongside a multitude of off-calendar and related events.

Adjacent events included several awards announcements, including the inaugural Hu Fashion Forward Prize, which saw Samuel Gui Yang win 500,000 yuan, or $77,600, as well as the fourth edition of the Shan Future Forum, a sustainable fashion event presented by fashion media veteran, Shaway Yeh, and her YehYehYeh consultancy, this time around backed by Kering and OTB Group.

On Oct. 11, the first “Her Power Fashion Dialogue” was held at Fosun Art Center and included a keynote speech from Shanghai Fashion Week ambassador and former Elle China editor-in-chief, Xiao Xue, as well as round table discussions that included model, Liu Wen, tennis superstar, Li Na, and underwear upstart Neiwai’s founder, Liu Xiaolu.

Since Shanghai Fashion Week began drawing the attention of the international fashion firmament, it has done so largely because of its position as gateway to the all-important China market. In recent years, its reputation as a training and discovery ground for talented young Chinese designers has also become well-known.

The pandemic period has encouraged a number of Chinese-born designers who previously split their time between their homeland and overseas bases to move home. The result has been an added concentration of Chinese talent at Shanghai Fashion Weeks in recent seasons and a collegiality among the designers, a shared feeling that they are part of a rising fashion industry at an exciting time in its young history.

As well as labels that may have shown at international fashion weeks in past years coming “home” to Shanghai – including Masha Ma (who normally shows in Paris but opened this edition of Shanghai Fashion Week for the first time), Pronounce and Samuel Gui Yang – new names are making waves, including Louis Shengtao Chen, who made great strides in only his second collection, having debuted at Shanghai Fashion Week in April.

Maosheng Qi, fashion features director of Men’s Uno China, also pointed to Jacques Wei, Oude Waag and 022397Bluff as highlights.

Susan Fang wowed the audience at her show, held during the five-day RoomRoom fashion showcase, an offshoot of leading Chinese showroom, Ontimeshow held from Oct. 7 to 12. The sophisticated, tulle-heavy outing from Fang was held in the “West Bund Dome”, a former factory in a set that featured a nine-metre tall heart-shaped installation. It’s difficult to imagine another fashion week where young, independent designers are granted access to these kinds of venues and this magnitude of a show.

This explosion of creative talent in Shanghai has been matched by the similarly dramatic development of a multibrand store infrastructure in China, with thousands of doors popping up over the last five years all around the country.

At the same time the pandemic stopped homegrown brands showing overseas, it similarly halted China’s new generation of fashion buyers from visiting international fashion weeks, meaning they have reshored their budgets to Shanghai Fashion Week and its burgeoning showroom scene.

Building on the success of recent editions, Meimei Ding, founder of DFO Showroom, said the market is continuing to expand.

“Although brands with high awareness and very distinct styles still tend to be more receptive for the multi-label boutique market, China still continues to be a very open-minded market with very sophisticated tastes, as well as being very conscious about themes such as upcycling,” she said.

Some of the conversation on the sidelines of Shanghai Fashion Week concerned the likelihood of Shanghai Fashion Week remaining as focussed on this “China for China” model of domestic buyers investing in domestic brands when the restrictions of the pandemic period eventually fade, as well as the the sustainability of the current business environment, which includes a large proportion of spending on the hottest, newest brands in order to experiment and see what consumers respond to.

Questions remain regarding what will happen to the creativity-focussed brands that are a highlight of Shanghai Fashion Week, in a future that will require more business acumen and better systemic support for young labels to succeed in the long term.

“China has become a very vibrant market and people have focussed more internally, which has given a lot of opportunities to Chinese brands and the local supply chain. The upside is you have more new brands and people want to spend money on them; the bad thing is people produce a lot of junk,” Shaway Yeh said.

“If you have a good product, it’ll stay. If you don’t, and people have been buying from you as they don’t have other options, it’s probably not going to last once the world reopens,” she added.

Learn more:

7 Shanghai Powerbrokers on the Future of China’s Fashion Ecosystem

Insiders at Shanghai Fashion Week speak to BoF about China’s future as a fashion industry hotspot as well as a centre of consumption.