Shanghai Fashion Week: The first entirely digital fashion week

Shanghai Week was probably the first fashion week to be held entirely digitally. Initially cancelled after the coronavirus outbreak in China, the event took place on Tmall, the online marketplace of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. Born out of necessity, the 'fashion week on the cloud' fused catwalk shows with entertaining teleshopping, and above all demonstrated how Alibaba’s livestream-shopping works.

You didn’t have to be an influencer, a journalist or other VIP to gain access to Shanghai Fashion Week. You just needed a command of the Chinese language and a customer account on Tmall to see the shows of more than 150 designers and brands. US fashion house Diane von Furstenberg presented her collection, along with fast fashion retailer H&M and up-and-coming Chinese designers like Shushu Tong and Angel Chen.

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Image: Screenshot Tmall Shanghai Fashion Week

At a time when shows and trade fairs are being cancelled and postponed - from the fashion weeks in Paris and Milan to Pitti Uomo - Shanghai Fashion Week offered a digital test case for one of the most physical and sacred fashion rituals. But above all, the digital shows which ran from March 26 to 30 demonstrated how fashion can be brought closer to consumers.

“For this edition of Shanghai Fashion Week, we have integrated some of Alibaba’s most-advanced technologies to bring a new and elevated experience to consumers,” said Mike Hu, head of Tmall Fashion, Luxury and Fast Moving Consumer goods, in a story on Alibaba’s website.

The art of livestreaming

Visitors to the Shanghai Fashion Week on Tmall were offered an exciting twist on traditional physical shows, getting to see different designers and brands presenting their collections in a variety of ‘rooms’. Customers could switch between runway shows at any time or watch recordings of the livestreams of past shows. And it wasn’t just the collections presented in a livestream, models and presenters also commented in real time ‘Which materials were used to increase the comfort of the wearer?’ and ‘Which body shapes would the items suit?’ Viewers could also use the comment section to ask questions that would be picked up by the presenters.

Move your mouse over the image and click on the round yellow icon with 'i' for more information.

Image: Screenshot Tmall Shanghai Fashion Week

While watching the show on their mobile phones, customers could also see items from the collection that were immediately available for purchase. For some, the multitude of interactive experiences of Shanghai Fashion Week could have initially felt overwhelming. Maybe it’s helpful to know that a certain 'buzz' - paired with a fair amount of noise and an abundance of colours - is often regarded as a must-have to boost sales in China; something has to be constantly going on to make for a good atmosphere.

This also helps to explain why livestreaming in e-commerce has already gained a strong foothold in China. The country had the largest livestreaming market in the world in 2018 with a value of 4.4 billion US-dollars, according to a report by consultancy firm Deloitte. The study estimated the number of livestream viewers in China would reach 456 million in the same year.

Move your mouse over the images and click on the round yellow icon with the 'i' for more information. Click on the arrows to navigate through the slideshow.

Image: Screenshot Tmall Shanghai Fashion Week

Rewriting the rules of e-commerce

In China, fashion and beauty are still the most important livestreaming categories, while almost every product is suitable for sale via video streams, according to Alibaba. Tmall generated more than 100 billion yuan (15.1 billion US dollars) in gross merchandise volume in 2018 through livestreaming sessions. This represented an increase of almost 400 percent over the previous year, according to Alibaba’s website.

The internet retailer is no stranger to the fashion world either. Alibaba promotes emerging designers from China regularly and has brought Chinese talent to fashion weeks like Milan and New York in the past. Many of these designers showed at the digital Shanghai Fashion Week - some also operate their own shop on Tmall.

In Europe, it would be almost inconceivable that up-and-coming high fashion brands would sell on Amazon. But the market in China works differently. Western luxury brands like Chanel and Prada have long recognized the importance of Tmall and opened their flagship stores there as China continues to rewrite the rules of e-commerce.

Move your mouse over the images and click on the round yellow icon with the 'i' for more information. Click on the arrows to navigate through the slideshow.

Image: Screenshot Tmall Shanghai Fashion Week

Ms. Min is one of the Chinese brands that first began selling through Tmall, gradually garnering international recognition and is now stocked at Hong-Kong luxury retailer Lane Crawford. The label is using traditional Chinese influences and luxurious materials in its minimalist designs. The garments cost between 4,500 and 9,500 yuan (635 to 1340 US dollars). After its Shanghai Fashion Week show on Tmall, Min Liu, the designer behind Ms Min, appeared on livestream to answer questions from the audience. "There are no phases without creativity as long as there is life," she replied when asked if she has ever experienced phases without inspiration.

Compared to the livestream shopping experience on Tmall, European online shops appear puristic, static and almost retro. Perhaps, Shanghai Fashion Week on Tmall offered a glimpse into the future, if the success of the video app Tiktok with Gen Z is anything to go by. Perhaps the entire presentation of the fashion week would be too overwhelming for fashion aficionados outside of China - perhaps too commercial. Either way, the event managed to offer an insight into a different, and therefore inspiring world.

Picture: Shushutong HW20/ Screenshot Tmall Shanghai Fashion Week

 

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