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Chinese Designers Make a Bid for the US at NYFW

The inaugural China Day showcased new and established brands that you probably haven’t heard of (yet).

A model walks the runway at New York Fashion Week: China Day
A model walks the runway at New York Fashion Week: China Day.
Photo: AFP/Getty Images

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To American designers, China represents a major opportunity. The country’s consumers now account for a third of the global luxury market, or $7.4 billion annually, and that number is only expected to grow. But what about everything the country has to offer American shoppers?

Even as the fashion industry becomes increasingly globalized and the internet gives us the opportunity to shop the world from our couch, only a handful of China’s biggest fashion brands are accessible to consumers in the States. Peacebird, a 20-year-old Zara competitor, has more than 4,000 stores across the country and billions in annual revenue, and yet it’s all but unknown to fast-fashion shoppers abroad.

This season at New York Fashion Week, however, the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) is hoping to change that through its collaboration with Tmall, the luxury e-commerce platform of Chinese conglomerate Alibaba. On Wednesday February 7th, four Chinese designers showed their collections at NYFW: Men’s as part of China Day, a new initiative springing from the CFDA’s ongoing partnership with Shanghai-based brand management company Suntchi.

The brands — Peacebird, Li-Ning, Clot, and Chen Peng — range from established to up-and-coming. According to Jessica Liu, Tmall’s president of fashion and luxury, the partnership aims not only “to support the new designers with more global exposure,” but also “to showcase iconic Chinese brands and help them to accelerate global expansion.”

Following the shows, the collections will be available to Alibaba’s 580 million active users on a see-now-buy-now basis, and the organizers expect that the caché of NYFW will further bolster the brands’s reputations back home.

While China Day was officially part of the menswear schedule this season (next season it will switch to women’s), much of what was sent down the runway was unisex. Li-Ning, a sportswear stalwart established in 1989, showed tapered track pants, dad sneakers, and hoodies emblazoned with Chinese characters and throwback images of its eponymous founder in his days as an Olympic gymnast.

Chen Peng, who started his line in 2015 after graduating from London College of Fashion, sent out his signature Rihanna-approved sculptural puffers paired with slouchy sweats and kitschy bulldog handbags. His was the only brand on the schedule with existing US stockists (Opening Ceremony, Dover Street Market, and Farfetch).

In New York, with buyers, media, and retail execs present, that could change. “We really see New York Fashion Week as a platform,” said Paul Fang, Suntchi’s founder and CEO. “There’s a lot of media and journalists, but also a lot of consumers that pay attention, so we want to use it as a platform to bring our Chinese fashion designers to the world.”

But lest the promise of all those yuan signs obscure the designers involved, Clot founder and former actor-musician Edison Chen implored the industry to keep China’s untapped talent in mind. “A lot of people look at China and they’re like, ‘We have money, we have money, we have money. How are we going to make that money?’” said Chen. “But actually, we have a lot of people, which means we have a lot of creativity.”