China as the world's biggest textile manufacturer, especially in low- and medium-end products is also becoming a new market for high-end fashion, but it lacks name brands of its own. However brands like Exception de Mixmind, Jefen, Farina.Z. Mention few people would recognize are creations of the country's top fashion designers. In fact, factories in China churn out clothes for many international brands, including major top-end lines.
But none of China's top 10 designers have made it to the stages of Paris, New York or Milan and few have opened boutiques overseas. They don't have a single designer with international recognition, said Wang Qing, president of the China Fashion Designers Association, which represents the country's more than 25,000 designers, up from only 64 in 1993.
Six young Chinese designers unveiled their collections on the catwalks of Paris last year for the first time, but only because they were invited as part of a year-long celebration of Chinese culture in France.
Wang said that what's being sold overseas is mainly fashion with Chinese characteristics, such as traditional Chinese outfits, but these are not being sold on a large scale. To be successful, their designs have to succeed in the mainstream.
Brand recognition is also lacking in the domestic market.
According to Industry experts, a relatively young fashion culture and a poor retail system were to blame. Department stores in China, unlike those overseas, shy away from risks and do not purchase clothes from designers, but require them to rent space from the stores to sell their clothes.
That forces designers to fork out a lot of money to rent store space or open boutiques in hopes of bringing their collection to a wider audience.
China also lacks the culture to support designers' creations.
Frankie Xue, whose Jefen brand grosses 75 million yuan in sales a year pointing to the country's nouveau riche often seen plunking down wads of cash for expensive items that are not color co-ordinated or clash in style. "There are a lot of people with spending power, but their sense of culture is lacking.
Fashion sense was virtually non-existent for decades under Communist rule. A rebirth occurred only two decades ago when economic reform began. Given the conditions back then, most people could only afford to experiment with jeans and T-shirts. It was only in the last few years that they could afford middle and high-end clothing.
While there is a mushrooming population of well-to-do yuppies willing to splurge on fashion, spending on clothes still remains low compared to developed countries.
A survey of spending habits in five major Chinese cities in 2002 found that people spend an average of 2,080 yuan (251 dollars, 206 euros), or 7.3 percent of their income, on clothes each year. The survey also found that a majority of consumers preferred foreign brands, reflecting increasing exposure to overseas goods through travel or imports.
Wang admitted Chinese designers lacked originality and creativity compared to overseas counterparts.
Exception's young designer Ma Ke whose designs of women's clothing have a functional elegance blamed an overemphasis on commercialization and copying. There are many designers in China, but only a handful create original pieces. But Ma is confident that will change as the country's consumers become more sophisticated and its designers more daring.
Xue, whose fall collection is an array of feminine but smart-looking outfits in warm autumn colors for young professional women, said that he does not believe Chinese designers would be squeezed out of their own market.
According to Xue and other designers, in order for a country to have top brands, it must be economically influential. If it's economically powerful, people will accept its culture, including its clothes.
Some of the best selling Chinese brands in China use durable fabrics that are not too expensive looking, conservative colors and low-key cuts.
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