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Shanghai Might Save the (Fashion) World

When Shanghai Fashion Week and e-tailing juggernaut Tmall announced an entirely live-streamed, digital fashion week, it left many fashion councils scratching their heads. This online shift has drastically altered the very core on which fashion weeks were built — a physical space for buyers to preview new collections.

Instead, Shanghai’s “See Now, Buy Now” format will see more than 150 designers and brands use livestreaming to present over 1,000 products from their current and upcoming collections. Moreover, the core consumer focus, catering to a potential 800 million active users might have far-reaching implications on who future fashion weeks cater to. Shanghai’s online makeover could offer hope to an already jaded fashion week system challenged by the emergence of COVID-19 globally and increasing environmental pressures, most notably in travel.

How Showrooms Are Adapting

Just at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, Meimei Ding co-founder of DFO, and one of the leaders in Shanghai’s recent showroom boom, knew she had to react quickly given the company’s international remit. “We were under pressure to react sooner as we run a showroom in Paris, so we had plans in place even before the announcement from Shanghai. Our immediate response was a jump to digital, livestreaming and 5G.”

Ding is confident about the season given the company’s newly developed capabilities in livestreaming and successful results (it streamed or shared live videos for 22 brands during Paris Fashion Week including N°21 and Snow Xue Gao. Client interest more than doubled rising by 105% when compared to SS20). DFO will launch a new online showroom for this season as well as extended dates for extra security.

“We figured out livestreaming in Paris, so we have addressed all the issues, and after core training, it’s just promoting, creating a variation in content, and readjusting and chasing our targets.” Initial predictions are high, too, as Ding reports DFO reached over 80% of its target from the Paris Fashion Week digital campaign and has extended sales deadlines to cater for increased demand.

Livestreaming’s figures are certainly on the rise in China. However, it is not a priority for all this season. Ying Zhang, CEO of NOT Showroom, will focus on video appointments from the end of March. She believes her bespoke one-to-one approach is the best way forward, “As the client in each case is so different, we want an individual approach. Also, if for some reason we can’t actually do our offline sales, we can still make sales.”

Given that factories and workers in mainland China have only recently returned to work — following a lengthy period on lock-down — an additional issue for showrooms this season is that many brand collections will not be ready in time for the fashion week event. While some designers will have to promote current seasons on Tmall, TUBE Showroom has developed staggered media-led strategies to help brands promote as they produce.

“We have been devising new ways for brands to get more press buzz before the shows, given they might not have full collections ready,” founder Zemira Xu said, stressing that the media in China, from L’Officiel to Elle to Nowless, have all jumped on board. Initiatives include a charity event with Elle, a collaboration with Nowness, and a more generalized sharing of selected looks with key influencers, media and VIP clients to create campaigns and photoshoots to amplify content reach and shares.

Online Means Emerging Brands Will Struggle to Attract New Buyers

Of course, as many founders will admit, the brunt of this season will be felt by new designers. The likes DFO is already skewed to a more established brand list, and platforms have been reluctant to take on new brands knowing buyers will have more trouble pushing unknown designers to customers.

According to Zang, the set up around the communication of her video appointments means it favors those, “who already know the brand.” She continued, “Buyers will spend carefully for Fall 2020, maybe on very special things or safe products. But this is good for brands too in terms of their own development, they need to think about what kind of products are working at this time.”

London’s Fashion Innovation Agency has been working with a range of designers recently on new digital possibilities. According to the company’s Head, Matthew Drinkwater, this crisis may well force a new way of doing business for buyers. He stated that there are now so many tools available to allow brands to showcase in an “entirely new way, from AI to livestreaming”, all that is required is a “shift in behavior.”

“Culturally, up to now, they [buyers] have physically needed to go to showrooms. The very nature of fashion week has been questioned for seasons now, so I think this is going to force brands to look at different, creative ways to express and showcase collections to consumers and buyers. We need to embrace what can come out of this, such as cloth simulation technology.”

If how a garment moves can be accurately captured in 3D is an exciting proposition, Drinkwater hints at even more to come. “We can see creative changes, a lot of people moving to 3D design, for example… We need to continue to push these areas so they can be accurately represented. How does it [fabric] feel like [it] is further down the link in tech advancements, but I feel like this will come,” he stressed.

Undeniably, Shanghai’s showroom ecosystem is pulling together this season. What seems to matter most is that the show goes on. Xin stated they are cautiously optimistic about this season if the situation in China remains stable. “As the majority of collections deliver from August onwards, we’re hopeful that the retail environment will be largely back to normal by then. Our expectation for orders from the domestic market is, therefore, more positive.”

Lin summarized it best when he said, “It’s important to be continuous and to keep showing to buyers. It’s vital for the designers too that we keep going.”


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