Tastemakers of China’s luxury retail landscape, Gary Wong and Jonathan Lee, established Shine in Beijing over a decade ago. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, China suffered minimally, becoming an oasis of possibility in a recession-battered world.
Capitalising on a retail environment that was ripe for growth, Shine introduced international labels to the market that were previously unavailable from major boutiques across the region.
The strategy was a hit and, even in its formative years, Shine expanded to five separate outposts across China, including Shanghai and Hong Kong. Now, brands like Comme Des Garcon, Maison Margiela, and Y/Project line contemporary retail spaces for loyal consumers with cash to spend.
“We have always valued niche, young brands with a bold identity,” says Shine buyer Jonathan Lee. The latest mix includes streetwear favourites like Liam Hodges and Angel Chen, menswear disruptors like Xander Zhou and Cottweiler, and more established names like Mother of Pearl and Craig Green.
“Doublet and Martine Rose are two hot names in streetwear and some of our best sellers,” Lee continues, attributing their popularity and 65 percent sell-through rate to their strong brand identities.
Tiffany Lung, analyst at retail solutions company Tofugear, paints the picture of Asia’s shifting consumer demands: over the years, tastes have transitioned from established commercial labels to less-known, niche designers.
“I.T. and its subdivisions were once the go-to places for Hong Kong’s fashionistas to look for eclectic brands,” Lung says. “But the consumer market has shifted in interest towards more up-and-coming designers.”
Hong Kong’s flagship store, in particular, recognised these fluctuations in consumer tastes early on. Situated in the heart of Fashion Walk, a collection of streets lined with high-end boutiques in the bustling district of Causeway Bay, it included younger, dynamic talents in its buy.
“Seven years ago, Shine positioned itself within Fashion Walk, a great location featuring an abundance of labels unique to the area, like Maison Kitsune, Off-White, and Ami,” Lung explains.
But times have changed since Shine started, and the retailer now faces competition from a host of boutiques like Juice, Studious and Liger, also situated at Fashion Walk. “It’s not just a matter of how desired your pieces are or how unique your brand selection is, it’s about providing that instant gratification to your fashion-hunters, ” Lung tells ORDRE. “Shine is rather dormant on social media and their digital presence is lacking in content creation.”
“I.T. was once the go-to place for Hong Kong’s fashionistas, but the consumer's interest has shifted towards more up-and-coming designers”
Lung points out that stores like Juice, founded by Kevin Poon, and Liger, started by celebrity Hilary Tsui, are dominating the market as they are both run by KOLs who have cultivated a loyal digital following from the local market.
Disruptors such as Storefront, an online marketplace for pop-up retail spaces around the globe, are also chipping away at the sector. According to Lung: “They offer easy solutions for retailers to plant themselves in a new neighborhood, or for e-commerce players to establish a brick-and-mortar presence.”
In 2016, a report by consultancy firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the Disruptive Face of the Retail and Consumer Products Sector in China and Hong Kong, states that total retail sales in Hong Kong continue to rise and are expected to return to a peak of US$63.3 billion by 2020.
“PMQ, the retail development in collaboration with the Hong Kong government which supports local talent, has definitely helped the progression of this market,” says Lung. “The retail scene in Hong Kong remains positive with the constant flow of tourism, but issues will remain with retail spacing due to the rise in rent.”
Moreover, Hong Kong is no longer the only easy access route to the rest of the Asia Pacific region and is also struggling to maintain its reputation as a leading luxury retail destination. Recent associations with London’s British Fashion Council and Hong Kong Trade Development Council might boost the city’s fashion credentials. Shine teamed up with the organisation to hold an in-store pop-up in March which featured an edit of British labels like Marques Almeida and Mother of Pearl.
Lee himself is enthusiastic about the city: “Hong Kong is a very important market for British fashion in Asia, as it is always one of the first stockist destinations for many young designers in the region.” In addition, there is also now an appetite for local designers in the city.
“Most of our selections include international labels, however, we also stock a few local designers,” says Lee. “Shine offers more emerging designer labels in Hong Kong compared to, for example, our China outpost, which has more established brands.”
“Shine’s unique and stylish brand mix from all over the world really embodies the HK fashionista style, hence continuously drawing a good crowd to their store,” Lung summarises. In a highly competitive market place, home to some of the world’s most sophisticated and discerning consumers, only time will tell if Shine can stay one step ahead of its contemporaries.