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January 26, 2017

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Shanghai on the rise as next fashion capital

WHEN one thinks of global fashion cities, a handful of names come immediately to mind: Paris, Milan, London, New York, and Tokyo. These are the top five global fashion cities because of their strong capabilities in the design, production, branding and sale of fashion.

Moreover, these fashion capitals have four-season weather. They also serve as command centers in transnational networks and contain corporate headquarters of the world’s largest fashion firms. One can say much the same about Shanghai, but the question remains: can it join the cities named above?

‘Pearl of the Orient’

Shanghai was the “Paris of the East” and “Pearl of the Orient” in the early 20th century.

At that time, the most visible aspects of Shanghai fashion were the dazzling clothes that cinema stars wore during social events or in ballrooms.

This was the typical image of fashion in China. This style has gradually evolved, incorporating diverse influences to form its own culture, the so-called Haipai culture. Also known as “Shanghai school culture,” the Haipai culture refers to the avant-garde “East meets West” style typical of Shanghai in the 20th and 21st centuries.

The characteristics of Haipai culture include innovation, inclusiveness and commercialism.

For example, during the 1920s and 1930s, the qipao was the most popular dress for women at that time. Influenced by Western aesthetics, the traditional Chinese qipao was shortened and became more fitted. This new garment soon became a fashion trend in China.

Beginning in the 1990s, Shanghai emerged as a global financial center, a transportation hub and a design and high-tech innovation center.

The Shanghai government recently launched policies to encourage creativity and support the local fashion industry. Shanghai’s fashion industry has a solid foundation.

For example, the city is home to famous fashion brands such as Icicle and Shanghai Vive. These are fashion leaders in China and are now expanding their brands overseas.

Shanghai is the most important rising star of the global fashion world. It can contend with the top five global fashion cities in terms of design innovation, branding, culture management, education and consumption. More importantly, the city has developed niches and unique directions that are different from other global fashion centers.

First, local fashion brands focus on design innovation by inserting concepts from Haipai culture. This culture is a core values of Shanghai fashion brands. For example, the 120-year-old brand Shanghai Vive still references Haipai culture in its packaging and brand logo.

High technology

Second, incorporating high technology into fashion is a promising direction for global fashion development.

This includes textile fiber technology, wearable technology, big data applications to predict fashion trends and information technology for fashion business operations. For example, SHANGTEX has invested in technology innovations related to fashion design, manufacturing and distribution.

Moreover, the Shanghai government has built various creative and fashion industry zones where fashion technology related companies have demonstrated their abilities. These include the recently launched Shanghai International Fashion Innovation Center. This center aims to develop advanced fashion related technology, and contribute to the development of Shanghai as a global fashion city.

Being a global fashion city is significant for Shanghai. Shanghai is now transforming its industrial structure and promoting the advancement of the service sector — including financial, information, logistic, commercial, trade, design and creative services. These services are all related to the fashion industry. The fashion industry also creates great value from design, production, branding, and marketing industries, which will add to China’s urban prosperity.


Bin Shen is an associate professor from Glorious Sun School of Business and Management, Donghua University. This article is supported by the Shanghai Culture and Creativity Advancement Office.


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