Asian fashion brands gaining popularity

Singer Rihanna in Beijing-based designer Guo Pei's yellow long cape dress at the Met Gala last year.
Singer Rihanna in Beijing-based designer Guo Pei's yellow long cape dress at the Met Gala last year. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL • Fashion brands from South Korea, China and Japan are becoming serious rivals of their Western peers as Asian consumers become increasingly confident in their own style and take pride in buying home-grown labels.

Chinese fashion brands, such as Ms Min and Comme Moi, are the fastest-growing contemporary design labels sold at department store Lane Crawford, which has outlets in China and Hong Kong, its chairman Andrew Keith said.

Lane Crawford also sells Korean menswear brands such as Wooyoungmi and expects to start selling Korean womenswear soon.

"You sense there is a pride about seeing China develop its own creative community and seeing China emerge as a creative force," he said in an interview on the fringes of the Conde Nast luxury conference in Seoul.

Asian consumers are the world's biggest spenders on high-end fashion, representing about half of total buyers.

Most of them are under 35, Internet-savvy and increasingly on the hunt for small, original brands that will make them stand out, fashion executives and retailers say.

This growing threat from the East is likely to add misery to big luxury brands such as Prada and Kering's Bottega Veneta, already suffering from plunging sales, partly due to excessive price increases, over- exposure in certain markets such as China and mega-brand fatigue.

Lane Crawford has seen its pool of Chinese labels grow over the past four years to more than 30, from just four. Twenty per cent of Chinese-designed clothes bought online are shipped outside of China "mainly to Chinese nationals living abroad who want access to these brands", Mr Keith said.

Also high on Asians' shopping list are Japanese brands, such as Sacai and Tsumori Chisato, many of them older and more established than South Korean or Chinese labels.

Seoul, Tokyo and Shanghai all have fast-expanding fashion weeks, sponsored by local industrial groups, showing dozens of budding brands.

Some labels have also moved West and started showing at Milan and Paris fashion weeks and opened shops there.

Beijing-based designer Guo Pei, whose yellow long cape dress was worn by singer Rihanna at the Met Gala last year, started showing at Paris couture week in January, while Chinese shoe brand Stella Luna, whose stilettos cost more than €500 (S$760), has three free- standing shops in Paris.

Popular Korean brand SJYP, run by duo Steve Jung and Yoni Pai, sells in Europe and the United States, including at Selfridges in London and Opening Ceremony in New York and Los Angeles.

Erwan Rambourg, author of the book The Bling Dynasty and luxury goods analyst at HSBC, says Asian brands, even if they are still small and not widely distributed yet, are fast becoming serious competitors to Western brands.

Korean cosmetics have long been popular with Chinese customers and he notes that popular South Korean television series such as My Love From The Star and Descendants Of The Sun, and Korean pop music acts such as BigBang and Girls' Generation, have helped boost South Korea's image as a trend-setter throughout Asia.

Ms Sung Joo Kim, one of South Korea's most high-profile female entrepreneurs, says: "Koreans' self- esteem and self-confidence have been boosted by the power of 'K-culture' and this is also why Korean and other Asian brands have started to become more popular."

She owns and runs German luxury leather goods brand MCM, known for its US$700 studded logo-embossed canvas backpacks.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2016, with the headline 'Asian fashion brands gaining popularity'. Print Edition | Subscribe