ENK International Interview
As detailed in our last post, the American contingent of brands that chose to attend this week’s China International Clothing and Accessories Fair (CHIC) did so through ENK International, one of America’s largest fashion trade shows. Branded as ENK USA, the pavilion housed 11 brands such as: Hudson, J Brand, Paige Denim, Robert Rodriguez, Robin’s Jean and Tart Collections. According to Elyse Kroll, the founder and chairwoman of ENK International “China represents the future for US fashion brands and ENK has always been at the forefront of things to come in the business of fashion and we want to be the first international apparel trade show producer to join this dynamic market”.
This week The Maosuit sat down with Courtney Harold, Director of Business Development at ENK International and asked about their participation at CHIC 2011.
How does your ENK platform help American brands to enter China?
ENK as part of the greater CHIC exhibition creates a perfect platform for small to mid sized brands. The big brands have whole teams of people who can come to China to set up an office and build their whole network, or partner with a large distributer from Hong Kong. So we really identified and then created a cost effective platform for the small to medium sized brands. This will help to establish the ENK brand and also introduce the fashion brands to regional and national distributers.
After three days of being at the CHIC tradeshow and meeting potential distributers etc., the brands’ representatives have commented that their heads’ are spinning. Can you tell us why?
The brands are realizing that China is a blank canvas and after every meeting they learn something new that changes what they thought just an hour before. One brand owner said to me “every time we think we grasp something someone else tells us something new and we realize we don’t get it at all”. Also, every meeting brings a new opportunity with a different distributer and so the brands have been changing their strategy every hour over the last three days.
The brands are all here seeking to partner with Chinese distributors and everyday they meet a new person with new directions and options, which is fantastic. In our preparation we tried to coach the brands on what to expect. We told the brands not to expect to meet a distributer who has worked on five high-end brands before, they just don’t exist in China. This doesn’t necessarily matter though. One of our brands met a guy who manufactures machinery and is a food distributer. He has never worked with fashion before but is very savvy and gets the distribution business, which in China could be more important than fashion experience.
Most of the brands at our ENK USA booth also have their CEOs and CFOs here for the whole four-day event. At the ENK in New York a CEO or CFO might come for 10 minutes, or maximum for two hours, but they have been here all day for three days straight learning about what is happening in China.
This is why everyone’s heads’ are spinning.
About half of the brands you have here at ENK are jeans brands, would you say the American casual and jeans brands have more relevance and chance of success in China?
I hear mixed things like denim is popular but no one will pay USD 300 for a pair of jeans here. I disagree, and I think people want something different and to identify themselves outside of the top luxury brands. In the research it kept coming out that everyone just wants to wear Armani etc. jeans, but based on the popularity of brands like Paige Denim, J Brand, and Robin’s Jean in the US, and the high rate of US. Celebrities wearing them, I actually think that will translate very well in China. Is it happening right now? No, but it will change quickly and the brands exploring opportunities now will be at the forefront in the years to come.
In the US. what is the general understanding of the Chinese fashion industry?
I think it’s 50/50. Fifty percent have absolutely no idea of the sophistication and the innovation and the quality. They still think it’s the old China. The other 50% who came to our show are the visionaries and see what’s going on and they understand the opportunity. Overall with people I spoke to is the USA it was either black or white, as in “yes I’m going to China” or “no, I don’t have time and am not interested”,
It was never just “I don’t know”. Of course it also depends on the person. They might have to a decent brand and have a decent infrastructure, but its really going to depend on how that person approaches the China market. Will they approach it with an open mind? Are they willing to work, willing to get their hands dirty, wiling to have difficult conversations? A lot of US. based businesses wont be willing to do that.
In the future do you see Chinese designers exhibiting at ENK in New York?
We do. That’s our goal, and based on what I’m observing I think its going to take a little bit longer because the infrastructure isn’t there yet and we are only just beginning to understand the Chinese market. But absolutely! We would love to have Chinese designers. We may first partner with some Chinese individuals who are well established in the fashion scene here and have them come to New York to do a fashion show etc. In the US. we have a partner show called TOMORROW which is really for up and coming designers from Korea, Japan and Europe and we give them a intimate environment where they can do their thing. I think that’s where we can really help the up coming Chinese designers.
A special thank you to Courtney for speaking with us at and being the first interviewee on The Maosuit.