Beijing boutique strikes optimistic note for designers
Wang Yaoyu's black T-shirt and skinny jeans are appropriate work attire for this 29-year-old.
He is part owner of Dong Liang Studio, one of the first boutique stores in Beijing devoted to showcasing independent Chinese designers' products. In November 2009, Wang and his business partner, Nan Lang, opened the retail store in Wudaoying hutong, Dongcheng district. Wang says the quiet hutong, a narrow alley, is the perfect location for a boutique store.
"Right now there are only a small number of people into designer clothing, so it's not necessary to put Dong Liang in a noisy shopping mall," he says.
Photo credit: Luxos
With its clean and simple design, the store's decor reflects an old Chinese home. The wooden desk and exposed beams give it an antique look. But no typical Chinese elements can be found in the clothing. Most of the items have a Western feel, and come mainly in two colors: black and white. Wang says they only choose clothing lines that have a consistent style and fine fabric. "The clothing should first be practical for daily wear, and have a simple but classical style, which is easy to carry," the designer says.
Looking back on his business venture, he says he shares something in common with budding fashion designers: the difficulties of starting a new business.
"Most young Chinese designers are only just starting out and experiencing really hard times," he says. "Barely any of them can make ends meet. The fact is, most of them are still losing money in designing."
Photo credit: Time Out
Wang says that the most challenging part of starting his business was convincing designers to join Dong Liang. "At first, many designers doubted our abilities. So we had to present them with a feasible proposal and demonstrate our sincerity about long-term cooperation."
It took three months for Wang and his partner to find independent designers with a mature design style and a complete line. But the dedication paid off. In one year, the number of designers featured in the store has grown from five to 21. And now he is the one getting calls and e-mails from designers asking for help.
"Some designers would like to join Dong Liang, because it is a recognition of their design style and product quality."
Some designers they select to showcase in their store have already gained a reputation in China, such as VegaZaishiWang, the owner of the brand SFORZANDO, and Ye Qian, the designer of Ye's. Wang says he fully understands the predicament Chinese designers find themselves in.
Wang Yaoyu wants to turn his studio, Dong Liang, into an incubator for Chinese fashion
designers. (Zhang Tao / China Daily)
"As the market improves, more designers are opening their own design studios and building up their brands," he says. "But the process is not that easy. The first obstacle is financing. But investors seldom give large amounts of money to designers and wait for the brand to mature and become well known. It takes persistence."
He adds that young designers cannot afford to spend the time and energy on marketing and promotion when there are so many other details to worry about.
"Fabric and production is also an issue. It is hard to find good fabric at reasonable prices, especially at a time when commodity prices are increasing," he says. But he is still confident about the future of Chinese designers. "I would quit if I did not have any confidence," he laughs.
Business is booming for Dong Liang, which sells clothing for more than the market average, ranging from $46 to $916, depending on the fabric and designer. And their products have drawn the attention of Chinese celebrities. Zhou Xun, a mainland actress and Valen Hsu, a pop singer from Taiwan, are among Dong Liang's frequent customers.
But Wang is looking at the bigger picture. He says Dong Liang wants to collaborate with designer stores in Western countries to introduce Chinese brands to the world, and influence mainstream fashion trends.
"Designers' products should not always appeal to a niche customer. After all, they are still commercial products," he says. "Every well-known brand, such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci, has experienced the same path, from a small consumer base to the (larger) public. It is an inevitable road for Chinese designers as well."
Dong Liang Studio
26 Wudaoying Hutong, Dongcheng, Beijing
Opening Hours: 11am-9pm daily
More fashion boutiques in Beijing: Time Out