MSc Strategic Fashion Management students Chana Baram and Heather Portbury explored Shanghai over the summer as London College of Fashion representatives after being crowned Global Outlook Award winners.
Chana and Heather spent a week in Shanghai networking with Levi Strauss & Co, Coach, WGSN and e-commerce powerhouse Baozun. The students were selected based on their detailed award application in which they pitched their understanding and research of the China Fashion Market and their knowledge of the differences between that of the UK Fashion industry. They also described how they would utilise their trip to enhance their understanding of global fashion business in Shanghai.
LCF News spoke to Adam Watling, LCF Careers Team Manager, about the Shanghai trip. We asked why Shanghai was selected and what was the purpose?
The purpose of the trip to Shanghai was to give the students an opportunity to take their curriculum work a step further and actively experience the culture of creative business in an emerging fashion market. As part of their degree both Heather and Chana focused on the Chinese market and specifically Shanghai, so the investment in a trip to this region for meetings and further educational development was the perfect fit. Not to mention that LCF has a wide range of corporate and educational relationships in this area.
They went on networking visits to Levi, Coach, WGSN, Baozun etc. How did LCF build relationships with these brands?
The companies the students met have been cultivated through a wide range of activities. Many of the key relationships were developed with the support of the UAL Alumni Association in Shanghai, a huge network of former students currently working and living in the city, with a wide range of creative connections and influencers eager to support new talent like Heather and Chana. Other key contacts were developed through LCF Careers industry contacts and partners.
Shanghai really was as hectic and crazy as people say
By Chana Baram and Heather Portbury
We were lucky enough to gain an insight into the Chinese retail sector by meeting with people in the industry and learning from their personal experiences of working and living in Shanghai. With both of us being culture lovers, we tried our very best to absorb the working life of the typical Shanghainese – navigating public transport, checking out the hotspots and trying some of the local cuisine.
Although we were both equipped with our basic knowledge of the language from our classes back at LCF, we did find getting around Shanghai very difficult when you can’t speak the language. But with the help of some friends we made along the way, things were made a little easier for us.
We found people in China very forthcoming in sharing their knowledge – networking appears to be the main way of gaining employment there. Shanghai in particular seemed to be focused on self PR, with the term ‘maintaining face’ often used. People are open and willing to give you their time, and later form relationships that are considered mutually beneficial. WeChat is the main way of networking and was the communication tool we used all week.
We met with Carrie from ASOS China who provided us with some first-hand insight into their China expansion. We also met with Mark, who helped Marks & Spencers’ with their expansion into Shanghai. Mark was particularly inspiring for us. He reflected on personal lessons he learnt during the transition and trying to translate a very British brand into the Chinese market.
We were very fortunate to be given the opportunity to visit the Alibaba Head Offices on our day trip to Hangzhou. With 26,000 people working there, the offices were like stepping into a mini city. It was apparent that everyone working in the office was highly motivated, innovative and talented.
With a 91% share of the online market, Alibaba is a pioneer and ensures that its platforms are ahead of the consumer curve. With further expansion almost inevitable, it will be very interesting to see how many people in the west will have heard of Alibaba in a few years time.
After visiting their offices we met Sandy, Associate Editor of WGSN China. She spoke to us about the difference between trend forecasting in China and the UK. With social media being a large form of trend research, China hasn’t – yet (watch this space!) – developed a big need to use sites like WGSN for market research to form the basis of its future product trends and product ranges.
We also met with Florrie, an LCF alumna, on our visit to the influential Conde Nast Centre for Fashion and Design. This Centre offers short courses in everything from Haute Couture to Marketing. We were told that the graduates from the Conde Nast Centre will often leave with key contacts in industry and a promising career.
Catherine from Cartier helped us to understand China’s luxury sector. It seems the Chinese luxury consumer has matured to a level that has the same needs and desires as the UK luxury consumer. Young and more niche designers that have recently graduated are gaining traction within the Shanghai market.
We were given a tour around the Coach retail stores by Judy from Coach China. Both of us were extremely impressed with the Coach stores and product offering in China. It appears to be a company that has found its feet within the market and we are excited to see how it progresses.
Our last meeting was with Jiang, the Marketing manager for G-star China who gave us an insight into the issues that need to be considered when transferring a typically Dutch designed product lines into the Chinese market.
The trip was fantastic! It was an incredible opportunity for us both, allowing us to apply all the hours of research we have spent in university to a real life context, and meet some inspiring and influential people along the way.
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