Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hermes to launch new Chinese brand

In the fashion industry (and, increasingly, in any industry), the phrase “Chinese craftsmanship” is usually an implied pejorative. Fairly or unfairly, things that are made in China are generally assumed to be less well-made than those made in Europe or the US, and much has been made over a handful of Chinese product recalls that have been announced for deadly dog food and baby formula or lead-filled toothpaste.

So when Hermes says that they’re going to launch a Chinese-designed, Chinese-manufactured luxury brand, surely they jest, correct? Wrong. Hermes never jests. According to Women’s Wear Daily, the new brand, Shang Xia, will be helmed by a head designer from the Chinese mainland, feature products made from Chinese materials and techniques and be autonomous from the design influence of its legendary parent company. All things considered, is it time to reevaluate our preconceived notions about Chinese-made goods?

Developments in Chinese fashion probably can’t be extrapolated out to optimism about more mundane Chinese exports, but considering how strongly so many of our forum members feel about their favorite brands outsourcing manufacturing to Asia, it’s still a phenomenon worth discussing.

In her oft-quoted book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, Dana Thomas explains some unfortunate, well-hidden truths about Asian fashion manufacturing. As it turns out, many of those “Made in Italy” or “Made in France” tags on our favorite bags are technicalities at best. As is the case with lots of electronics, cars, appliances and other consumer items that boast a “Made in the USA” label, most of the components that go into the manufacture of our handbags are made overseas, often in China, before they’re shipped to their final assembly destination to receive their finishing touches and the all-important tag.

Some brands still do all their manufacturing where they say that they do, some save the European manufacturing for runway pieces and outsource the more mundane things to China and some do it all overseas. They all go to great lengths to hide any of their Asian manufacturing from the eyes of their consumers, but fashion is a bottom-line-focused business and Chinese factories present an opportunity to save money that’s too difficult to resist.

Is that necessarily a bad thing? Maybe not. Not all Chinese factories are created equal, and I don’t see why it would be impossible for a brand to enforce meticulous quality standards in whatever factory and country that they choose to produce their bags, as long as they have the correct oversight structure in place. Sure, China is known as the originator of many of the fake handbags that we all hate, but that doesn’t mean LVMH or a company nearly as powerful couldn’t build a state-of-the-art factory for authentic goods down the street. There is nothing inherent in Chinese soil that means that everything that we import from the country must be total crap.

Hermes’s investment in Chinese craftsmanship is perhaps the most striking measure thus far to indicate that China is coming into its own as both a market for and source of luxury fashion. Much has been made over the country’s burgeoning middle class, and it only stands to grown more over the next decade. It’s natural that consumers with newfound expendable income will look to companies in their own country for goods on which to spend it, and giving the Chinese an opportunity to do that may very well be a lucrative venture for the people behind this decision at Hermes. In addition to that, it’s one more step towards legitimizing Chinese manufacturing in the Euro-centric fashion industry, for better or for worse.

Original article via Women’s Wear Daily.


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