I feel disappointed. When travelling you are looking forward to finding something new. Thats the whole point isn’t? Perhaps you are dreaming of finding a perfect pair of shoes in New York or a luxury evening dress in Shanghai. But get off the plane and it is more of the same. Same brands, same high street like anywhere north or south of the River Thames. Only worse in Asia where it is all squeezed into malls. And so you go up and down the escalators without even seeing the daylight. 7 out of 10 world’s largest malls are in Asia.
The UK government has been trying to fix the high street for a few years now with mixed results. At least they are trying. It will probably be quite a few years before the Asian markets realize that they don’t have anything unique to offer to attract tourist shoppers and keep the locals proud. I certainly didn’t see any of the locals feeling proud at the recent trade show of Singapore Fashion Week. How long before Asia gets tired of large brands and starts looking for unique local designers and shops? And will these shops be there when it is so tempting to copy western designs, give it a Swedish name and produce in China. It really works, so why not? Louis Vuitton, Dior and other big brands are certainly happy with the way things are – as the middle class grows the region accounts for the largest proportion of sales whereas sales in matured markets have long been underachieving targets. Can you imagine anyone queuing since 5 AM for an LV sale in NYC or taking a few hours flight for a Dior bag?
Does that all come at an expense of creativity and innovation? I get it – it is difficult to compete with well-established brands. But there must be a way. Can technology be the usual answer? Apsara Oswal, the owner of Mythology, independent designers boutique in Singapore, certainly thinks that it is part of the answer: “Technology is definitely an imperative part of the marketing process. Compiling customer data from user accounts to social networks, to help improve products and services, is now so much easier with technology.”
Craftsmanship is on the rise in the West. It should be safe to assume that Asia will catch up too. Tokyo is a perfect example where established and independent brands can live happily ever after. Perhaps others will follow. The key challenge remains as described by Apsara: “Asian designers and retailers need to strive to be a part of the global scenario. I feel to maintain our idiosyncrasy, our brands must retain their essence of being Asian, and not forget to incorporate the craft, artisan fabrics that are essentially Asian, into their designs.” Just a couple of months ago Ms. Guo showed us how at the Metropolitan Museum’s “Met Ball” in New York City. There is hope.