Tag Archives: fashion

Branding the Mask

design maskIf the human race can be counted on for anything, it is that we will consistently scare ourselves to death whenever we can. We love to overreact, spin conspiracies, and take (or talk a lot about taking) radical action. It’s what we do.

Another thing we do is we exploit our native fears for commercial purposes.

Enter the Asian Surgical Mask Phenomenon. This is a trend that continues to build and grow year on year. From China to Korea to Japan to any number of Asian nations, the spread of the surgical mask gets wider and wider. On any given day in Shanghai, you can see people walking around, sporting the mask. The mask exists to ward off airborne germs (yours or others) or protect you from air pollution.

But where are the brands?

With hundreds and thousands of blank white spaces covering noses and mouths, why are we not seeing a market for Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel masks – or Nike, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s? The opportunity for brand communication is enormous and yet is left almost completely alone.
It could be that the brands do not want to connect themselves with illness – and that would be justified and understandable. But one has to assume that many of the masks are now being worn less out of necessity than as accessories. In that case, I would expect a swelling tide of branded masks to already be out there.

An argument could be made for luxury brands, adding a new area for expansion in affordable luxury, akin to sunglasses and watches. Surely a “little black dress” could be accompanied by a “little black mask.” Coco Chanel would like the consistency and Lagerfeld would have fun with it.

Sports brands could use them to promote awareness and their concern with the wellbeing of their consumers. Nike shorts. Nike t-shirt. Nike headband. Nike facemask. Just do it.

Sadly, the need for facemasks in high pollution areas is no joke. On “high alert” days in China, people are encouraged to stay indoors rather than expose themselves to the toxic air. In such an environment, masking up is good alternative to hiding yourself away. And people are doing it in droves. There is so much demand in China, for example, that the counterfeiters have moved in on the territory. What do they know that the big brands don’t?

It is curious to me, therefore, that this opportunity is being neglected. If the facemask is becoming de rigeur, surely fashion mavens should be calling for their integration in one’s total look. Sunglasses were invented for UV protection, but people now choose them based first on how they look and only then on how they protect.pipemask

Depending on my mood, I would certainly have a notapipe branded mask for working days, a Puma mask to match my sneakers, and perhaps an Armani mask for formal occasions.

In the words of Karl Lagerfeld himself: “Don’t dress to kill, dress to survive.”




The Made-in-China Syndrome

IT IS THE largest manufacturing base in the world. It is the largest single consumer base on the planet. Yet China’s brand and reputation seems to mean only cheap and mass-produced.

Is this just the way things are?

China has become the world’s largest consumer of luxury goods. This has come about, according to various sources, because of an increase in Chinese wealth in certain strata of society, because of the allure of Western luxury super-brands such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel or Dior, and to a large extent on the lack of recognized brands coming from the People’s Republic. As a consumer powerhouse, China will keep the luxury sector afloat in years to come.

The question, however, is why are there so few Chinese luxury brands that are known abroad. Such brands are present on the market, including the Red Flag sedan of Chairman Mao, luxury retailer Shanghai Tang, or the luxury fashion label Ne Tiger. And while Shanghai Tang has made it to London (and Bangkok, Honolulu, Miami, New York, Las Vegas, Madrid, Paris, Tokyo, and Macau), there are no significant Made-in-China luxury brands to be found outside the country.

The Experts

Any discussion about luxury in China, moreover, brings the experts out in droves. They want to tell us about socio-economic indicators and drivers. They want to tell us about the rise of the Chinese middle class. They will also have a few slides about the spending power of the new Chinese super-rich and their habits.

This is all very interesting. But where are the brands?

Talking to a group of (mostly European) master’s students in Suzhou today, I asked the question: What does Made-in-China mean? And the answers came back –

“Too Chinese”
“Mass produced.”
“Bad quality.”

Bad rap. The argument that they were “too Chinese” meant that the Chinese culture and its associations are too far removed from Western Europe or America to have any impact. This may be true. But the opposite is also true – France and Italy are far from Beijing and yet their traditions are not seen as “too French.”

Brands around the world depend on China for their production. Huge volumes can be handled quickly and reliably at very reasonable prices. And this is probably the biggest stigma-generator of all.

Made-in-China is cheapened by Western brands who DEMAND the cheap, the cut-corners, and light-speed production times. Western brands producing in China count on the low price, and they accept lower quality to get it cheap and fast.



All of this redounds to the detriment of Made-in-China. None of this has anything to do with the centuries of tradition behind brands like Moutai, the most expensive Chinese liquor or Shui Jing Fang whose spirits are sold for hundreds of euros. But export these to Paris and they will sit quietly on the shelves, undisturbed by consumer desire.

Problematically, Chinese brands suffer from our bad memories. We have lost the memory of the China of the Silk Road and Marco Polo when anything brought back from the mysterious East had intrinsic value based on its provenance. Today, the effect runs the other way.

The answer to the question about Chinese brands and Made-in-China is that there ARE brands but we do not let them in. We choose not to understand them. We do not look beyond the China we know.

And the intrepid brand developer who is able to show the Western world a brand made in China whose value and prestige can outshine our own luxury brands will have a foothold in the future.

Brands in China Series