Made in China – luxury brands’ secret snobbery
As discussions rage on when it comes to the “Made in” label of fashion brands – the label specifying the country in which a good was produced – one luxury fashion label in particular is pioneering the trend for transparency when it comes to using Chinese manufacturers.
Starting this year, luxury loungewear brand Meng, will source and produce part of their collections in China. They plan to not only nurture this relationship by helping Chinese manufacturers rediscover their heritage in high quality textiles, but to also champion a new-found acceptance when it comes to using them in premium fashion – a huge step forward in the industry.
Long have labels such as Coach or Tory Burch been uninterested in disclosing the origin of their clothes, however the reality is that they would most likely have to disclose “Made in China” or another low-cost, emerging market country of origin.
While Meng carries the “Made in the UK” label where their silk and prints are largely manufactured into their trademark kimonos and kaftans, they will begin to produce a proportion of their line in China. However the designer behind the brand is keen to lead the move towards the visibility of using countries like China to make luxury garments without it reducing their desirability.
“What customers may not realise is that high-end production is gradually leaving Italy, but where is it going? It is going to China and we want to lead the trend in making it a viable option for luxury brands to do so.” designer Meng Zhang says.
“There is a stigma about the “Made in China” label within the industry, with customers instead favouring British, Italian or Swiss manufacturers – but why? If we look at where this stigma has come from it is the idea that the cost of workers is lower and therefore the product is not as good because of mass manufacturing. The irony is that actually China is far more suited to what we need as designers. In the UK for example, where we currently make our garments, we find that a manufacturer will have three to five seamstresses and out of those, perhaps one will specialise in silk. In terms of efficiency and scale, this is not good enough.
We are not looking to compromise quality, we want to create superb quality products, that will not change. As a designer I am still looking for a garment to emulate a piece of art.”
In terms of the stigma attached to the “Made In China” label, the Chinese – the largest nation of luxury consumers in the world – have done little to remove the stain on their own country’s manufacturing reputation with many expecting their shoes to be French, their watches to be Swiss and their cars to be German.
Yet the history of the Chinese silk industry, in particular, is an illustrious one. As the birthplace of silk, the legend states that Lady His-Lin-Shih, wife of the Yellow Emperor Huangdi was having tea under a mulberry tree when a cocoon fell into her cup, and as she watched, the cocoon spin a strong white thread. She then taught her people how to raise silkworms. The country houses the Hanzhou National Silk Museum, the largest of its kind in the world.
But since making this decision, Chinese-born Meng has already encountered “unfounded” snobbery within the industry.
It was during a meeting with the buyers of the Galeries Lafayette that one buyer mistook an original Meng sample – which had been “Made in the UK – for a garment of lesser quality “Made in China”.
Meng wrote a letter in reply to this buyer’s response. It reads:
“I am writing to express our disappointment after the very brief meeting we had last week…”
“All the samples we presented at the show were printed and made in the UK, following our normal process. We were quite unsettled (and dismayed) by the negative response received when we mentioned we were thinking about shifting some of our production to China for AW16 after extensive sampling. This decision, if put in place is much in accordance with our luxury positioning and we disagree with the assumption that our product’s quality has decreased or will decrease as a result.”
Our decision to move to China is less justified by the lower production cost and more by a desire to source higher quality fabric and gain access to studios that have had the luxury of specialisation afforded by the traditions of the country’s own textiles and the scale of the industry which is growing, rather than becoming more limited, with limited access.”
Now Meng is keen to open the conversation about China and to promote greater transparency about using their manufacturers to create lasting luxury products and a new global standard.
“I want to ensure that our Chinese manufacturers really understand what we are trying to achieve. So it is our job as designers to be there every step of the way with them to make sure they have a sense of the art behind each garment, to really understand that each stitch is a piece of art.
“We will go there and work with them, nurture them, to show them the quality we expect. The skill is already there but it is our job to make sure they are taking more time over each – that slower is actually better and the results will speak for themselves. Because our products are so high-end we need them to retain their exquisite appearance and feel. I am saying there is nothing wrong with the “Made in China” label being visible – we need to remove this stigma.”
Meng has been bridging the gap between modern casual wear and evening wear for the last three years. Their collections include silk loungewear, beachwear, homeware and an accessories line which are stocked internationally by stores including Neiman Marcus, Harrods and Selfridges.