Alve Lagercrantz and Mao Usami launched Sirloin, a label inspired by undergarments, in February 2016. From their base in Shanghai, the Swedish/Japanese duo are rethinking what it takes to be a contemporary fashion brand. With a stockist list growing season-on-season, they are now carried by stores in Japan, Europe, the US and across China. ORDRE breaks down what makes them stand out.
- They know who they are
Sirloin has a very clear and strong brand message, “Stupid elegance,” is their way of looking at the world. “This is our design motto. Season after season, we have different topics and stories,” Alve Lagercrantz explains on the phone from Japan.
“As a brand, you don’t necessarily need to appeal to everyone. Finding your niche is actually more effective,” explains Yishu Wang, associate creative director at Qumin, a creative agency that builds brands in China. “Also, China is a huge market. Defining the brand and having a clear brand messaging that is not necessarily about the product’s practicality is where brands can get ahead in this market. It helps the brand to find their audience and also helps the audience identify themselves with the brand.”
- Leading global trends
“When you work for brands in Europe, you send pieces all over the world to be produced and they come back, and then you send them back again, and so on….So the opportunity to work together with a factory and develop products in China, and the possibility to be able to control the production, well it was just so tempting to be honest. So that’s how it all started,” Lagercrantz outlines.
So without speaking mandarin, and hardly ever having been to China before, Sirloin found a factory to work with in Songjiang, a suburb of Shanghai. This chimes nicely with the fact that many larger Chinese companies are now looking into more creative manufacturing processes. Good news for designer brands in China, then.
Although this is something quite new, we wouldn’t be surprised if relocating to China becomes the next big trend for fashion brands. As well as being close to manufacturing, trends indicate that the wider world is also starting to look to the East for inspiration. Thus Sirloin joins the likes of Ffixxed Studios - an Australian duo based in Shenzhen - in leaving oversaturated markets and venturing into newer, untested landscapes.
- A unique take on Chinese culture
“China is immensely complex as well as being immense beyond all but a very few westerners’ comprehension,” Patrick Gottelier, Dean at DeTao Masters Academy in China, who has been living in China for four years, explains. “Alve and Mao have chosen to immerse themselves in China and Chinese youth culture specifically, absorbing the culture and the zeitgeist, and they re-interpret through the triple cool lenses of Japan, Scandinavian noir and of course, Central Saint Martins (where they studied). That is a pretty extraordinary combination and one that has the potential to ignite.”
Sirloin, by its own admission, was slow to be picked up in China but this season their Chinese stockists have increased five-fold. “For us, what we find so exciting about China and Shanghai is the optimism for the future. In China everything is new and a possibility,” Usami enthuses, adding, “I think maybe this collection is when the customer finally understand what we are about, and the way we are presenting - it is closer to the Chinese consumer.”
- Clever brand strategy
Society’s definition of what clothes we use for public and private has relaxed recently and this plays well for Sirloin, given underwear makes up the core of their design. Wang outlines this is also where their design motto is most evident: “Sirloin’s design looks intentionally unpolished,” she suggests. “It is not to impress others, but to embrace oneself. It is very empowering. A sense of humour is not uncommon among underwear brands.”
The key players in the underwear market are mostly focused on comfort, and, by mixing lingerie and RTW, Sirloin can tap society’s blurring of garments’ suitability to certain situations. Moreover, brands like Victoria’s Secrets (whose debut show in China last year was a PR disaster) are failing to make themselves relevant to Chinese consumers. Despite their size, a brand like Sirloin is better placed to read their audience.
“The power of brand-building is still underestimated in the underwear market in China,” Wang suggests. “With the growing trend of individualism, people are looking for products that are not just functional and practical, but also help them express themselves. Sirloin is better in this sense.”
- Unique leveraging of presentations
Sirloin started by showing at Paris Fashion Week but is now a regular at Shanghai Fashion Week’s Labelhood. “Having shows in Paris first helps to establish the brand’s fashion credentials, which helps them commercially when holding presentations in China,” Wang offers. “I think it is a good strategy to balance the design and business, it is working so well for the brand.”
This season their show utilised AV, injected with their trademark humour. They sent models down the runway to a green-screen that, when viewed through a mobile screen, showed a stock-imagery landscape. “It’s very natural now how everyday life is connected to a little machine in your hand, but it’s extreme here in China,” Usami laughs. “Why not let them enjoy the experience as part of the show? Modern nature is now downloadable!”
“It was brave, clunky, innovative and precisely representing China’s youth today – unafraid to take risks, confident and effortlessly playing with technology,” Gottelier assesses. “It was not the future but it certainly points to a future.”
“The world has been looking at China and taking inspiration from the mainland. Relocation is still something new but I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a trend,” Wang affirms. “If the manufacturer is in China, it helps to be close by to ensure quality and be more flexible in making changes to products. It is no longer just a place for production or just a market. ” With a potential market as large and open as China, it seems like Sirloin is right on track.