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Huishan Zhang and Masha Ma both want to redefine what “Made in China” means. The two Chinese designers have nothing in common stylistically, but both want to give “Made in China” a makeover.
I met Huishan in the showroom of Rue du Mail during Paris Fashion Week. His fall-winter collection is full of lace, with eyelet embroidery in wool. All this intricate fabric comes from Huishan’s hometown of Qingdao in Northern China.
“I am very lucky that these manufacturers are willing to produce small trail quantity of fabric for me,” the designer said. “Usually, they only take big bulk orders for export. What I want to show is that ‘Made in China,’ if combined with ‘Designed in China,’ can be high quality and good. Not the cheap stuff, or the fakes.”
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In another neighborhood of Paris, at the Hanger showroom, Masha is getting ready for her show on March 7.
“I am now on the schedule for Paris Fashion Week,” Masha said. “I can do this because we have our own manufacturing facility now in China, they can do small quantity and they can make my runway pieces in a hurry,” Masha explained. Her facility is a shared manufacturing workshop with two other Chinese designers, all based in Shanghai.
Unlike Huishan, who uses locally manufactured fabrics, Masha said she imports hers. But having her own workshop allows her to produce small quantities suitable for young start-up designer lines.
It’s clear that the bulk-minded manufacturing mentality in China has been a major problem for young designers. Often, it’s difficult to find facilities that will handle small orders in a timely and quality-sensitive fashion.
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But as fashion retail is blooming in the country, investors are funneling much-needed cash to young designers to finance their ateliers, much like the shared workshop of Masha Ma.
“It’s a new business model,” said Masha of her co-op style business collaboration with Qiao Qiao and Qiu Hao. We all sell in One by One, a boutique owned by Qiao Qiao, and we share the manufacturing.”
This model is obviously working. One by One has 15 outlets in China already and Masha Ma, the label, can generate a cash flow of 100,000 yuan, or $12,000, per day.
Why Paris? Why bother coming to Paris if the business is doing so well in China?
“Branding,” she said, without any hesitation. “Selling well in China is not a brand; I have to build a brand image and Paris is the right place for me.”
Although only a small percentage of her business, Masha is obviously proud of her international orders. Her fall-winter collection will be sold in Spiga 2 in Milan, Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong and Istanbul, and possibly Barneys New York.
Huishan has a completely different strategy. “I am not in a hurry to expand quickly,” said the designer who, to this date, has no presence in China. “It’s a huge market, China,” the designer mused. “And it can swallow me and my creativity if I am not ready.” Huishan had worked for Dior in 2010 and has a haute couture line as well as ready-to-wear.
“I want to develop my style and reputation in the West and then move to China. Ultimately, China is where I want to make it big,” he added. Huishan is based in London and selling in Browns in the U.K. and Joyce Boutique in Hong Kong.
Both designers graduated from Central Saint Martins. Their styles cannot be further apart. Huishan is visibly Chinese with brocade and dragons, while Masha is vexed by repeated questioning from the press in search of the missing China element in her design.
Interestingly, both designers are not shy about “Made in China.” In fact, they are proud of it. They just want to redefine what it means.