China designers upgrading with foreign expertise

FUZHOU • Dragons, palm trees, surfing... a 41-year-old Korean-American designer is discussing new shirt designs with all of these elements with his Chinese colleagues.

"This season was inspired by the tropical weather and environment here," said Chris Yoon, a designer at Fujian Qipai Group, a garment maker in Jinjiang, a manufacturing hub for clothing and footwear in China's Fujian Province.

In 2014, after working for Calvin Klein in New York for 61/2 years, he decided to come to China.

"I like the company and the CEO's personality.

"He is very warm and open-minded, and from the way he dresses, you can tell that he's really into fashion," Yoon said.

As a foreign designer, he is not only adding Chinese elements and local scenes to his designs but also working with young Chinese designers.

"My hope is that I can instil confidence in these designers, and encourage them to have original thoughts," he said. "Originality matters and success can be achieved through original ideas, instead of copying someone else."

Yoon teaches the designers to connect to the latest trends through social media and talk to store owners to learn consumers' wants and needs.

"They come to the table with their ideas. If their ideas are better than mine, I go with theirs," he said.

"What I bring is experience and what they bring is youthful energy and vigour."

He believes the young designers he works with are talented and China's fashion industry is exciting.

"China can be the best in the fashion industry," he said. "I want to build this brand as best as I can, a brand that people are attracted to."

In recent years, clothing and footwear companies in Jinjiang have invited foreign designers to add impetus to the upgrading of these companies.

Mr Angus Wardlaw, from Scotland, is an innovation engineer at leading shoe brand Anta. He joined the company in January this year after working for Adidas in Germany for 15 years.

"I came here for the innovation culture of the company and the opportunity and support it gives me to innovate," he said.

He is responsible for establishing an innovation team at the company.

So far, the team has recruited about 10 foreign designers, mainly working on adding high-tech features to shoes and designing shoes that better suit the wearer's body based on medical engineering.

Last year, the local government held a contest for designers and received more than 140 designs from 31 countries and regions, including the United States, Germany and Italy.

Some of the foreign designers who won at the contest have come to the city to turn their designs into physical products.

This year, the city will continue to hold the contest, as well as workshops and seminars, to create a platform for local designers to communicate with and learn from foreign designers and add innovation to the development of the city's industry.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2018, with the headline 'China designers upgrading with foreign expertise'. Print Edition | Subscribe