Lane Crawford's Andrew Keith on the evolution of luxury in China
After working for Chinese brands G2000 and U2 Clothing, in 2001 Andrew Keith joined Hong Kongese department store group Lane Crawford to grow its menswear business. Keith, a Scotsman who grew up in Borneo, supervised in 2007 the opening of the first Lane Crawford branch in mainland China, in Beijing, before becoming the department store group’s President in 2008 and also taking charge of fashion and beauty retailer Joyce. In an interview with FashionNetwork.com, Keith has analysed the evolution of the luxury market in China and the group's upcoming projects.
FashionNetwork.com: How is the Chinese luxury market evolving?
Andrew Keith: It’s a market that's changing constantly and growing very rapidly, with consumers driving its evolution. First of all, the clientèle is very young, with the majority comprised between the ages of 25 and 35. There are young consumers who are discovering fashion and love to create their own identity. In parallel, there are generations of young people who are obsessed with brands and build their identity through them.
The other major growth driver is digital technology, especially smartphones. Nearly 70% of transactions in the industry are made via smartphones. Hence the importance of product communication quality. All the elements must be carefully considered, as Chinese luxury consumers don’t spend money on fashion alone, but also on fine food, travel and lifestyle experiences.
FNW: How would you describe the profile of Chinese luxury goods consumers today?
AK: Chinese consumers are very aware. If a brand is strong globally, it will work well in China. But Chinese consumers are also paying greater and greater attention to local labels. There is a genuine explosion of Chinese designer labels, and a growing demand for them, also because they are better able to communicate to Chinese consumers than their Western counterparts.
FNW: Which are these Chinese labels?
AK: We are talking about young Chinese designers, the majority of them graduating from British fashion schools. They work with Chinese influencers and their reach is growing. We are already distributing them in our stores, where they are increasingly gaining ground. We started out four years ago with five labels, and now we have 50 of them! In the meantime, we are also promoting these emerging Chinese designers in Europe, via e-commerce. In future, Chinese labels will compete with established fashion brands.
FNW: What distinguishes these young Chinese designers from Western ones?
AK: The majority of them manufacture their products locally. They know how to connect with China’s tradition. They have a distinctive way of communicating, using Chinese models, and this brings them closer to Chinese consumers. At the same time, their brands have a global reach, they are competitive and function well.
FNW: Which are the most interesting trends in the current luxury goods landscape?
AK: What’s interesting is its diversity. Creative innovation is a blend of bespoke fashion, digital tools, technology, the heritage of tradition and a futuristic vision, and it is evident in the way labels manage to mix together all these different elements. We are living in fascinating times. We must be open and curious, and draw inspiration from a variety of sources, because our world is globalised.
FNW: What does the Lane Crawford Joyce Group consist of?
AK: The group is Hong Kong-based and it is active in retail distribution in Hong Kong and China via four major entities: the Lane Crawford department store chain, with eight branches; Joyce, a fashion and beauty retailer, a Chinese version of Colette, with five stores; the Pedder Group, specialised in footwear and accessories, with eight branches; and ImagineX, a company specialising in the distribution, management and retail development of luxury labels in China.
FNW: What are the future projects of the two retail chains you are in charge of?
AK: We want to open more Lane Crawford branches in China. We have the same objective for Joyce, but it will take longer. In 2015, we launched a project with Lane Crawford called ‘Creative Call-out’. It is a competition which enables young designers to present their collections to our buyers, and the winner is then distributed through our stores.
Last year, we exported the project outside China for the first time, travelling to Los Angeles and Sydney, so that our buyers could go out and meet emerging talents who don’t necessarily move through traditional channels [this year's competition was won by Australian label Tom Fereday Design]. Customers come to us to see something new, they search for inspiration. Because of this, we cannot remain inward-looking. It’s important we reach out. This kind of operation enables us to discover new talent, and also to energise our staff!
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