Asia’s emerging markets welcome homegrown luxury
In our hunt for the Next 100 Global Challenger Brands that will feature in the next issue of M&M, we’ve come across an emerging paradigm in the luxury sector in Asia, aiming to recreate the authentic value of Eastern traditions and culture and replace the notions of luxury imposed by the West.
One example of this trend is the Hermès-backed Chinese luxury brand Shang Xia (meaning ‘topsy-turvy’ in Mandarin) that opened its first store in September last year in the upscale shopping area in Shanghai on Huaihai Road and has since managed to cause a great buzz without any advertising, PR or celebrity endorsements.
Although Hermès had 20 stores in China already, Shang Xia was launched as a unique homegrown luxury brand led by a designer from Shanghai, Jiang Qiong Er, and is oriented towards traditional Chinese craftsmanship and materials in creating contemporary jewellery, apparel, housewares and furniture which is 100% manufactured in China. The move was initially received with scepticism, since Chinese consumers had developed a preference for foreign brands due to the perception that they are of better quality. Yet, Shang Xia successfully challenged this misconception and is now planning on opening another store in Beijing, followed by Paris as first steps towards going global.
Craftwomen display their skill on cashmere during the store opening of Shang Xia in Shanghai on 16 September 2010
According to Jiang Qiong Er, the Chinese homegrown luxury brands that had been present a century ago withdrew in the early 90s as the Western ones took over. However, gradually attitudes started changing as consumers stopped shunning all things Chinese aside, recognising a need to reconnect with their own cultural backgrounds and becoming more curious about their heritage.
“I think more people in China realize the importance of looking back to our cultural roots, going back and trying to re-evaluate the value of Chinese culture,” Jiang says in an interview for Jing Daily.
“More people here are starting to realize that, in our lives today, we’re dominated by Western lifestyles. But if you look back at the history of the world, you’ve got both Western and Eastern cultures. At one time, Eastern culture was on the peak, but that flipped. So maybe it’s time to flip it around again in some way.”
Interior of the Shanghai flagship
One of the strategies that sets Shang Xia apart from other luxury brands is prioritising time over profit with goals set in a 100 to 200-year timeline; since the essence of luxury is, in fact, time. Additionally, the marketing philosophy behind the brand is based on word of mouth, in a way to make consumers feel that they are discovering something themselves, or relying on a trusted source. Yet, this doesn’t imply a lack of proactive marketing, in fact, Shang Xia have come up with some highly insightful and creative solutions. For instance, they recently sourced designs of a unique cultural object on the theme of “Heritage and Emotion,” organised a two-week exhibition to showcase the winning object: a box called “Pass it On,” designed to keep family pictures and objects. At the exhibition, the brand set up a post office where visitors could send Shang-Xia designed postcards across the glove, with Shang Xia paid postage.
In India, established designers such as Ritu Kumar and Sabayasachi Mukjerjee, who have been drawing inspiration from India’s ancient craft and fabrics, equally recognise the revival of homegrown luxury.
“A lot of Indian women like wearing clothing which defines them as Indian. I might be doing Western clothing, I might be doing Indian clothing, but there is always a common denominator, and that is India. If you look at the approach, if you look at the artistry, if you look at the textiles, there’s always a strong indigenous feel,” Sabayasachi claims. His designs focus on using local, handwoven fabrics like khadi, handloom silk as well as regional arts like block printing, bandhani and gota.
Likewise, Ritu Kumar’s designs draw heavily on the textile and embroidery heritage of India. Her work under the brand ‘Ri’ will be featured in an upcoming Hindi film, Love Breakups Zindagi, due to be released in early October this year.
However, blending the best of the East and the West through modernisation of Indian traditional styles is beginning to gain recognition beyond the luxury sector in India with Anita Dongre’s high street fashion brand Global Desi that capitalises on “global style, Indian trends.”
Perhaps the flip to the East anticipated by Jiang Qiong Er isn’t that far from gaining international traction.