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Will People Accept Luxury 'Made in China'?

Donnerstag, Nov. 25, 2010, 14:43 / United Kingdom



Hermès’ new offspring, Shang Xia, which is set to spring forth into the Shanghai High Street any day now, will be a powerful litmus test of whether affluent Chinese consumers will buy into the new face of “Made in China”.

Obviously, clearing the “Made in China” stigma is a tall order—not only because it’s a widely held belief among marketing experts that Chinese affluents will continue seek status in western prestige brands, but because “Made In China” stubbornly remains synonymous with everything luxury isn’t. M-I-C tags include but are not limited to: fake, cheap, poor labor conditions, badly made, knockoff and, most importantly, inauthentic. The authenticity issue is probably the clincher, because we are emotionally, often irrationally attached to the authenticity of things.

A recent Wired article entitled “Why do we care about luxury brands?” offers compelling evidence that “our faith in the authentic—especially when the authenticity is supported by effective marketing campaigns—is a deep-seated human instinct, which emerges at an extremely early age.”

Citing the findings of pair of psychologists on a group of about 40 kids, aged 3-6, the experiment used a funny machine that appeared to duplicate toys and other objects to test the children’s reactions to real-versus-duplicated objects. Oddly enough, most of the children chose to keep the copy rather than the “real” object. But when it came to putting cherished, “attachment objects” in the machine, like a blankie or a favorite stuffed animal, all the kids refused to let their precious things near the machine at all.

“Made in China” as a concept functions as a similar kind of machine—one known for its functionality when it comes to duplicating and simulating familiar objects and symbols of value, but largely untested when it comes to generating original truths.

Shang Xia is not the first entity to have a go at re-calibrating the M-I-C machine. The bespoke tailoring and lifestyle boutique, Shanghai Tang has been oiling its gears for well over a decade.

Founded in 1994 by the Chinese entrepreneur David Tang, the concept store first opened its doors in Hong Kong in 1994, selling colorful, updated takes on traditional Han Chinese garb. At the start, Shanghai Tang’s stock-and-trade was the Qipao, or Cheongsam, and bespoke Mandarin collar suits. However, the brand ran into trouble within a few years. According to a 2007 article in the Independent, “the flagship in Hong Kong…became a destination for tourists and ex-pats who loved the retro art deco design of the shop and the novelty of the clothes. But it was a relatively short-lived success: locals saw it as a shop for gweilos (foreigners), while the gweilos themselves were unlikely to become life-long devotees to what was essentially costume-party wear.

In the late nineties, Richemont, acquired a controlling stake in the firm and promptly began to troubleshoot the issues that had alienated Asian consumers. “Out went the clichés, much to the approval of Chinese buyers, and in came ready-to-wear lines that filtered a strong sense of cultural heritage through contemporary influences and sensibilities.” Today, according to a recent press release, “Shanghai Tang is positioned as the global ambassador of contemporary Chinese chic… and celebrates the optimistic spirit and resilient nature of China’s people, nature and environment.”

For all its gorgeous, astute marketing and design, Shanghai Tang has not made a significant change to the made in China, made for China authenticity machine– at least in the eyes of Asian consumers. Perhaps newcomers such as Shang Xia will really get the gears turning– and then imagine a world in which “Made in China” resonates in the at the same frequency as “Made in France”.

Catherine Levy | TribaSpace

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