When we did our last review of fashion sites, a certain website called Yitrends didn’t exist yet or else it would’ve definitely topped the list. This web upstart blows away all the competition on our style radar, acting as information central for all “China-centric fashion news.” Curious to see who was behind this powerful momentum, we had a quick chat with the two founders, Rita Chung and Alice McInerney, to see what Yitrends is all about.
Can you tell us a bit about both of yourselves?
Alice: I’ve been living in Beijing for the past couple of years and loving it. I am Time Out Beijing’s Shopping & Style Editor, and as well as the website I take on other freelance fashion-based projects.
Rita: I’m originally from Hong Kong, but have been working in communications all over the map, including in Beijing where I met Alice. We came up with the idea to do this website before I decided to move back to Hong Kong, but the move turned out to be a really good thing for the site because now we have a much-needed presence here, too.
Do you have direct backgrounds in fashion? If not, what led to it?
Alice: I did Mandarin and English at university in the UK, then did an internship at Time Out. After working for the BBC during the Olympics, I was offered a job as Style Editor at Time Out. While researching various articles, I found it was virtually impossible to find any information in English on the blossoming fashion scene in China. While still evolving, the transformation has been exponential. I wanted a way to document this and let other people in on the excitement as well.
Rita: I don’t have a direct background in fashion either, but I think being female makes me interested in fashion by default, so it was easy to dive right in with this project and it has been a lot of fun picking things up as we go.
Shanghai and Beijing fashion week came to an end not long ago. Any thoughts on that–favorite designers or overall impressions?
To show at either fashion week requires big bucks and most of our favourite designers tend to show off-schedule. But considering how China has consolidated a fashion scene within the last 15 years, we’re sure that future fashion weeks here will eventually focus their attention more on nurturing some of the younger, less established designers. I can’t wait for something akin to London Fashion Week’s On|Off or Vauxhall Fashion Scout. These independent showcases, held during LFW, bridge the gap between off and on schedule designers and have really helped the careers of London-based Chinese designers like Du Yang and Masha Ma.
The site is in English and Chinese–simplified and traditional. That’s a pretty impressive detail to cater to different audiences. Would you say there is a big disjoint between the mainland and HK/Taiwan fashions?
Well, even a few years ago, there was still a big difference between the fashion forward crowds in Hong Kong and Taiwan who took influences from each and every place: London, New York, Milan, Paris, Tokyo, and the mainland Chinese crowd to whom the adjective ‘fashionable’ was an oxymoron. But with the huge boom in wealth and consumer choices in recent years, many mainlanders are now not just as fashionable, but even more cutting edge than people in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Not just ladies either. You can chart the rise of the Chinese metro-male in our recent piece “The rise of the Chinese dandy” (http://www.yitrends.com/2010/10/27/the-rise-of-the-chinese-dandy/).
We made our site trilingual because what we found in the mainland there was a huge disconnect between English speakers and Chinese speakers’ source of fashion news, obviously because of language. Right now there is a huge pool of local talent that is putting the Chinese fashion scene squarely on the world map, but for a lot of non-Chinese speakers, especially those who live in China, they can’t read Chinese fashion magazines or read Chinese blogs, so they are missing out on the burgeoning scene happening right here. So we are bringing that to them. At the same time, there are a lot of people in China who are very keen on fashion, but Chinese media focuses disproportionately on global luxury brands and don’t turn their attention to all the budding local talent, so we’re glad we can offer the independent designers we like a launch pad for them to get exposure.
Most importantly, our tagline is that we are a China-centric fashion news website, and that really is what we started out to do. China is on the rise. Not only local born talent, but also overseas Chinese talent is really making waves in recent years. Jason Wu, Alexander Wang, Phillip Lim, Richard Chai demonstrate that the trajectory is on the up and up, but still we couldn’t find a credible one-stop shop anywhere that would inform us on every item of China-centric fashion news, and so that’s what we set out to do. And of course, we can’t only do it in one language because we wanted to share it with everyone!
Right now, is it mostly locals who are looking at the website or curious international visitors wanting to know more about China?
Last time we checked we had people visiting from more than 50 countries. We do have a great following in Asia, Western Europe and North America. People in LA really love us, so we’re very happy with that. But we do get the biggest kicks out of seeing that someone from Macedonia has spent a long time on our website, or Jamaica, or Israel. Fashion knows no boundaries and we are proud to be a part of that. Bring it on! Of course, our biggest following by far is in mainland China, especially Beijing and Shanghai. The second-tier cities are also our fans. Looking at the language distribution, some days there will be a lot more Chinese readers, other days it will be English readers. We have a really good mix. The best thing is, we’re continually getting more and more new visitors to our site, and this really reassures us we’ve got the formula right.
Shanghai is often said to be the most fashionable city in China. Do you agree with that?
Ouch! As a Hong Konger and Beijingren it’s totally impossible for us to choose, but we love stumbling upon random street-style blogs showcasing hipsters from obscure places like Binzhou or Urumqi. It’s great to see an increasing number of young Chinese finding new ways to express themselves sartorially. Just as fashion has no international boundaries, who’s to say which city out of all the thousands in China is the most stylish?
If you were to choose 3 words to sum up Chinese fashion, what would they be?
Firstly ‘emerging’, because it’s at the wonderful stage where it’s coming to the end of it’s infancy, but has not exactly taken shape yet, so you see a lot of potential talent coming through, but they’re still not quite finished with their experimental stage and haven’t set their signature styles yet, so everything is still fresh and unpredictable.
Secondly ‘eclectic’, because Chinese designers now take inspiration from just about everything and are moving away from obvious connections to their heritage, or simply following a Japanese aesthetic, which used to be a very common path for young designers here.
Thirdly ‘intuitive’. Fashion often answers needs we haven’t yet articulated. Chinese designers are increasingly instinctive, prepared to gamble and trust innate creativity. That’s why one day we’re confident they will be the innovators of global fashion design.
How else do you hope to expand the site?
Well, everything has just moved on at warp speed. And we’re the spontaneous types, so we actually don’t know yet. The most awesome thing is that we’ve been getting lots of contributors who will start to contribute their pieces next month. These are all Chinese fashion insiders – designers, shop owners, fashion PR, and even Hong Kong based model James Parry – some might remember him as the formerly rumoured boyfriend of Chinese model, Angelababy.
So many of our contributors have been really supportive of our site, and will be writing a piece each month for us, which is fantastic! But one thing for sure is that we want to bring a lot of new voices and opinions to our website and we want to keep showcasing budding new talents. In what shape or form we will expand we can’t exactly say yet, but who knows? Maybe we’ll start selling limited edition items from our favorite designers, maybe we’ll even do pop up shops, maybe we’ll even become designers ourselves, or maybe we’ll just wake up one day and decide to stop all this madness and become accountants. Who know what will happen tomorrow? We just want to keep up the momentum of bringing all the latest and greatest China-centric fashion news to the widest fan base we can. Fashion here is vibrant, exciting and expanding at a speed unimaginable even a couple of years ago. We want our readers to be a part of that.