Tasha Liu is co-founder and Marketing Director of multi-brand concept store C.DONGLIANG, which is dedicated to showcasing Chinese designers. Founded in Beijing in 2009, C.DONGLIANG has two concept stores in Shanghai, one for menswear and another for womenswear, bringing together Chinese fashion designers to an audience indifferent to traditionally popular luxury brands.
Apart from being a regular at Shanghai Fashion Week, C.DONGLIANG is also the first Chinese multi-brand retailer invited to show at London Fashion Week 2013. Tasha is also the founder of independent pioneer art fashion festival, LABELHOOD, a fashion incubator for young Asian designers and new independent brands.
F: FASHIONALLY T: Tasha
F: How did C.DONGLIANG come to be?
T: C.DONGLIANG was first established eight years ago. Previously I had two jobs, firstly at Ogilvy working in consumer insight, and then at Pepsi Co. marketing the Lipton brand. I encountered this very small multi-brand shop in Beijing that focused on Chinese designers, and what they did touched me deeply. I was also writing features on the side and did a few interviews and got to learn a lot about Chinese fashion designers. Eventually I wanted to dedicate myself to the promotion of young designers, so I resigned and joined C.DONGLIANG in Beijing. Afterwards, we brought C.DONGLIANG from Beijing to Shanghai, and that’s where the headquarters is now.
F: What sort of a concept store is C.DONGLIANG?
T: For the past five or six years, we have played a much bigger role than a retailer. We are involved in the promotion of Chinese designers and collaborate with renowned brands such as Nike, Samsung, SK2, and so on. When these brands want to learn more about Chinese designers or look for Chinese designs, they will think of us.
F: How do you select brands for C.DONGLIANG?
T: I’ll consider the impact this particular brand will have in the industry. I’m not just talking about creativity, but also if they have a clear idea about positioning and what sets them apart from other brands. I want to see a strategy on market positioning, pricing and target customers, and the potential for commercialisation.
F: What’s the working relationship like between C.DONGLIANG and the designers?
T: On the one hand we work with established designers, such as supermodel-turned-designer Lu Yan. On the other hand, we are also eager to work with young designers even while they are still studying. Sometimes we encourage them to launch their brand, and give them advice on how to position themselves; we have additionally helped present the first collections of some designers. We are not a formal consultant but more like a more experienced colleague giving advice.
F: Do you have any advice for young designers who want to succeed in the field?
T: Young designers need to find their own language. The world definitely does not need another fashion label, so you need to establish what makes you different from everyone else. This uniqueness must be supported by the market and not just your own subjective opinion.
Of course when you’ve found this language, it’s only the start. What follows is a lot of team work, and if you do not have a team, you need to learn how to cooperate with third parties.
Fashion is a long supply chain that goes from creating to production to sales. You have to learn to cooperate with others and get the best out of your team. Fashion is not art. It is part of daily life.
F: What do you think of Fashionally Collection #10?
T: Even with only a few outfits on display, I can see their ability to create. Ka Wa Key has been featured in Labelhood and selected by GQ for a presentation, and KENSON has a lot of potential for commercialisation. In general, I think these designers have a good grasp of the business and the market.
F: What should Hong Kong designers do if they want to enter the mainland Chinese market?
T: Mainland and Hong Kong designers can share the same design language. As late as five to ten years ago, we were still very much influenced by Hong Kong culture and the way fashion was presented. In the retail industry, Hong Kong is still influencing the mainland even now. I think there isn’t a big differentiation between Hong Kong and mainland designers. The most important thing for all designers is the willingness to embrace the youth culture of China today. Hong Kong designers’ unique background can not only help them do well in the mainland but also create great chemistry with the market.
However, one must bear in mind that this is a very different market environment, since the mainland is so large and multi-layered. Beijing and Shanghai are metropolitan cities where consumers are very sophisticated. But in lower-tier cities, their behaviour and ways of thinking are very different. Designers must understand that.
There are a lot of young people living in second, third or even lower tiered cities. They are all eager to embrace fashion. Since many fashion designers are trained overseas, they must learn how to create a useful dialogue with these young people.
You should learn to interact with the market. Your self expression should not be a one-way street.
F: Please tell us a bit about LABELHOOD.
T: In 2016, Shanghai Fashion Week invited us to create an open platform for pioneering designers. From the start we wanted it to be an event for the public as well as fashion insiders. Unlike fashion week, anyone can register online and get free admission tickets.
In this way, LABELHOOD posesses a very energetic atmosphere, where young people can participate like professionals. Most came just to see what was going on at first, but now they have become familiar with the brands, and come to see how they are developing. These young people have become ambassadors for Chinese designers.
Designers who want to participate in LABELHOOD can apply online by uploading their brand information. They will be reviewed by a professional brand committee, who will end up selecting about 20 designers to be showcased at LABELHOOD.
F: Are there any major happenings at C.DONGLIANG?
T: This year’s big development is the opening of our online store on Tmall. We have pondered this for a long time, and feel this is something worthwhile to do.
China’s e-commerce market is expanding so fast, but young designers are hesitant to jump in because they are unsure about their capability to handle that kind of volume. But it’s something we can’t really know unless we start doing it.
Tmall is China’s foremost e-commerce platform for brands, where you can learn so much about the shopping habits of consumers. It is very valuable to be able to translate emotional messages into data. We are willing to try because we really want to understand our consumers better.
F: What will you be looking for when judging this year’s YDC?
T: TDC does the same as us: discovers young designers and helps them realise their potential. I look at it as if I’m selecting for LABELHOOD and am keen to find designers with growth potential in terms of originality, uniqueness and commercialisation.