Since its inception, Labelhood, a B2C showcase at Shanghai Fashion Week, has become a mecca for emerging Chinese designer talent, not only in the city of Shanghai but throughout mainland China.
This season it spanned four days, and featured industry veterans such as FFixxed Studios, Yirantian and Angel Chen, alongside new faces like Swaying, 8ON8, The World is Your Oyster, and Oude Waag.
“I think Labelhood has given Shanghai Fashion Week a fresh new makeover in a way,” says MeiMei Ding, chief executive of DFO International that operates a showroom during the fashion week. “Now, I think it’s quite clear that the official catwalk tent at Xintiandi caters for more mature or more commercial designers, while Labelhood celebrates the new designer spirit. I’ve heard it being compared to London Fashion Scout, for example.”
Labelhood is the brainchild of Tasha Liu, one of the three founders of retailer Dongliang that carries predominantly Chinese-only designers. Liu officially started the showcasing platform in April 2016, after being approached by the Shanghai Fashion Week Organising Committee, who realised it had a dynamic new sector of the industry to cater to: emerging independent Chinese designers.
The organising committee was also beginning to realise that ‘Brand China’ was being built by the talents of young, ambitious creatives, who were learning abroad and before returning home to shape the industry. Back in 2009, this shift was already palpable to Dongliang, which opened a store in a Beijing hutong. Stocking Chinese designers was a pioneering concept at that time and by 2011 the retailer had expanded to Shanghai, opening a three-story flagship townhouse with a garden on the Fumin road.
In 2013, Dongliang proved its global ambition, holding an event with Design by Shanghai during London Fashion Week. The following year, it hosted ‘Dongliang One Day’ an enterprising takeover at the official Xintiandi tent; the line-up featured the first official catwalk show from Angel Chen, who had just graduated from Central Saint Martin’s, and is a recent member of BoF 500.
“We wanted to make Chinese designers a thing, as did Shanghai Fashion Week,” explains Quentina Yuan, head of the Labelhood organising committee. “We transformed Dong Liang’s one day into Labelhood because we realised that the number of emerging designers was increasing rapidly and the market was much bigger than before. Given the overlap and with the committee’s encouragement, we initiated Labelhood, a fashion and arts festival.”
For many brands, a slot at Labelhood is their first introduction to the industry in China. Participants are chosen by a panel of industry experts including stylist Lucia Liu and Joanna Gunn, chief brand officer for Lane Crawford, all overseen by the watchful eye of vice secretary general of Shanghai Fashion Week, Lv Xiaolei.
This year’s panel also featured Tmall’s general manager Meng Gu; Tmall, China’s online marketplace, is now the event’s official B2C ecommerce partner, illustrating Labelhood’s business acumen and innovation.
“We are focused on the young consumers’ appetite for fashion, we are meeting their needs through the creation of a direct channel between them and independent designers,” Yuan states. “In addition to fashion presentations and shows, this season we have pop-up stores and several ‘see now buy now’ presentations like Wan Bing for example, which are collaborations with Tmall.
This is our way of amplifying Chinese designers on the most developed e-commerce platform in China and, as the only public-facing event in China, Labelhood is democratising the industry.”
Each season, new content streams are launched, from exhibitions and concerts to film screenings and performances that create a bridge to the young generation of consumers; Labelhood’s audiences are made up of the young, cool, creative elite of China (80% of which is post 90s generation) peppered with handful of international visitors - this year Susie Lau was a guest.
One of the first stockists to support Angel Chen, L.A-based retailer Lorenzo Hadar, of H Lorenzo, regularly attends Shanghai Fashion Week. “Labelhood gives designers a platform to grow,” he observes. “Globally, I think other fashion weeks need to learn from Shanghai, to really focus on domestic designers. Tasha Liu, the founder, has been doing a great job by improving and implementing every season. As retailers, Dong Liang only promote and carry Chinese brands, which makes them unique.”
Ffixxed Studios, from Shenzhen, are regulars on the Labelhood circuit - this season is their fifth - and sell from the Coda showroom. “Labelhood is improving and evolving its message every season. It is focusing more on public programs, there’s more of a focus on engagement with the audience,” Ffixxed co-founder Kain Picken explains. “This allows our audience and end consumer to engage with our brand in a way that other fashion weeks or events don’t often allow.”
This season saw the merger of Labelhood, the platform, with Dong Liang, the retailer; and the rebranding of the flagship store as Labelhood Shanghai. While this move was evitable, DFO’s Ding, among others, are curious about what this means for the future transparency of the event.
“I think this is something quite notable to watch, as it might affect the kinds of designers that are being selected or the positioning of the event, so this is really interesting to follow.” Ding continues, “one smaller question mark I have is, does Labelhood celebrate or discover the upcoming or new superstars every single season? I think the judging panel is quite strong in my opinion but I would like to see more variation [in brands].”
With a virtually unparalleled domestic market, and international appeal, Shanghai can afford to differentiate and innovate, to segment and experiment, and this new merger of retailer and showcase will keep the crowds guessing.