In today’s international fashion markets, one usually need look no further than a countries’ main fashion week to get a general idea of how the industry in that country is working. Whether through visiting fashion weeks in person, or exploring them through the Internet and other media, there is an abundance of information. The fashion weeks in Paris, Milan, London and New York tend to be run by big companies like IMG and are highly organized commercial ventures, where buyers, media, industry professionals and sponsors all have clearly defined ways of attending and being involved. This isn’t the case in China.
For the last four years I’ve been attending China Fashion Week (CFW), and for a long time I struggled to determine its purpose, how it was organized and also how to be involved. The truth is that CFW is run very differently from the other fashion weeks, and to get the inside perspective on what CFW is all about I recently interviewed Ms. Pauline Su, (Su Baoyan) President of the China Fashion Association (CFA) which organizes CFW and oversees the entire China domestic fashion industry.
(Translated from Mandarin)
What is the role of CFA and the main activities you are involved in?
The China Fashion Association was founded in 1993 and is the National Governing Body for the fashion industry in China. We were originally just dedicated to working with and promoting Chinese Fashion Designers. Our role has now expanded and we have seven fashion committees that oversee most aspects of the fashion industry in China, these include: Fashion Designers, Pattern Makers, Fashion Schools, Models, Media, Brands, and Visual Merchandising. Issues related to production and the industrial side of fashion in China are administered by the China National Garment Association, not the CFA.
Our single biggest activity is to organize and promote China Fashion Week twice a year. We also organize design competitions, seminars and exchanges with other countries and give opinions to the different Governments on city planning and how to promote and develop the fashion industry.
Furthermore, we conduct professional training courses for pattern makers, visual merchandisers, sales staff and management programs. We also often assist foreign fashion companies and introduce them to potential partners in China, conduct B2B workshops for licensing or manufacturers, or help introduce foreign designers to Chinese brands.
What role does China Fashion Week play in the industry?
China Fashion Week is quite different from others around the world. In other countries the Fashion Buyers play a big role in the industry, they attend the international fashion weeks and view the collections before deciding what to buy and put in the stores. China has never had a multi-brand store distribution channel and department stores basically just rent space to individual merchants instead of doing their own merchandising. Therefore there was never such a thing as a ‘Fashion Buyer’ in China.
China Fashion Week is mainly targeted at the domestic fashion industry. The majority of attendees are therefore media, special guests of the brands, celebrities and franchisee partners. China is so big (and disjointed) that many mid-end brands need franchisee partners to cover the whole country. Fashion Week gives these second and third tier city franchisees and in some cases shopping mall landlords a chance to visit Beijing and see the brands and collections.
China Fashion Week also gives famous Chinese designers and brands, such as Guo Pei’ Rose Studio and Zhang Zhi Feng’s NE Tiger a platform to show their collections in a nationally organized event.
What kind of fashion design contests do you organize?
We organize various contests across categories. During Fashion Week we hold the Hempel Design Contest which is a young international designers contest purely aimed at ideas and creation and no specific category. Then we also hold competitions across specific categories like sportswear, lingerie, wedding gowns, swimwear etc. In fact this is one of the ways sportswear was developed in China.
For the 200 plus schools in China that teach fashion design we also have a top 10 young Chinese designers contest. This spans three days and students have to sketch an entire collection, and then produce one garment all in the space of three days. The winners all of this contest receive sponsorship for overseas study. Through all of these contests we are paving the way for the future Chinese Fashion designers.
What are the international exchanges the China Fashion Association is involved in?
We communicate with many other countries and visit the most important fashion weeks around the world like Milan, Paris and Tokyo to see each fashion market and industry. We help organize fashion shows for Chinese at the international fashion weeks and also participate in forums such as the Sino-Italian Fashion Summit, Asian Fashion Federation. These days we also visit the fashion festivals in places like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam etc.