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My fashion life - Claire Chung

ShangPin’s vice president of international business development is bringing a global perspective to the Chinese etailer.

Claire Chung

Claire Chung

Globetrotting Claire Chung has done it all. Her 20-year-plus career has spanned the US, UK, Brazil, continental Europe, China and South Korea, and a variety of roles. These include starting out as an analyst in Citibank’s art advisory services in 1991 and launching jewellery brand Dendara in 2004, before joining online marketplace ShangPin’s management in 2011. In this role, she helped pitch to Chengwei Capital for the $50m [£33m] needed to create China’s first full-priced etailer selling in-season and contemporary brands.

ShangPin signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with UK Trade & Investment in December. Why will this make it easier for UK brands to enter the Chinese market?
This is a move on the British government and industry’s part to ensure there is a clearly signposted route into China. This MoU is unique in that it specifically focuses on two things: the fashion/lifestyle sector and the ecommerce route.

The UK has always been internationally renowned for the quality and strength of its fashion industry, so it’s a valuable asset in terms of GDP. Being able to successfully export fashion and lifestyle brands to the lucrative Chinese market is therefore extremely important. Brands need to really understand the market they’re selling to, which can be challenging in China. Consumer tastes are very different and awareness of non-Asian brands can be low. The ecommerce focus is also important.

The traditional bricks-and-mortar route into new territories is expensive and slow. China’s size and infrastructure also adds extra issues. It’s impossible to have a store in every city, and as a result businesses can’t reach a sizeable part of their customer base.

In September you introduced Topshop into the Chinese market. What made the brand the right fit for the Chinese consumer?
British fashion brands in general are poised to succeed in the Chinese market: they are well versed in the art of competition and British fashion’s general aesthetic also tends to be more glamour-led, which suits Chinese tastes. When we did an analysis of the market, we found that Topshop in particular was very likely to succeed. It is one of the most fashion-forward brands in its price segmentation and so has a good chance to win market share in a category that is currently dominated by Chinese brands.

What’s the one thing UK retailers and brands will be most surprised to learn about the Chinese consumer?
They like to mix high street clothing with designer luxury accessories and are very hungry to learn more about fashion and boost their credentials. They view fashion as a form of self-expression and identity, which is a new concept in China - this is the first generation to really think about fashion on a personal level. Remember, people were wearing Mao suits not so long ago.

What is the best job you’ve ever had?
I’m very proud of my current job working in fashion in China. I grew up knowing my grandmother was one of the last generation of women with bound feet and, in those days, that was the most a woman could aspire to. Knowing that I - and other women - have come so far in a relatively short period of time means my job at ShangPin is close to my heart. This ‘new’ China is very exciting and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

What have you learned from working across so many markets?
It may sound simple, but there’s one key lesson I’ve learned from the various markets I’ve worked with: never underestimate cultural differences. It’s extremely important to put in the time and effort to understand people and learn about their culture, both in a personal and business sense. Knowing the local language isn’t always necessary to work in a new market, as long as you show willingness to learn about the local people.

Did you always want to work in fashion?
My first love was art and I have a degree in Italian Renaissance paintings. I started my career on the business side of the art world and later moved into fashion. I appreciate the beauty and creativity of art and, in many ways, fashion is
its own type of art.

Where do you find inspiration?
I’m inspired by anyone who is passionate about what they do. One of the most inspiring people I’ve met is John Wood, founder of the education charity Room to Read. He left a job at Microsoft to use his entrepreneurial skills to develop one of the world’s best-performing non-governmental organisations. He’s a great inspiration with regard to delivering results.I’m passionate about philanthropy and a great believer in the importance of girls’ education, which is how I found Room to Read. John’s book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, is the best feel-good book I’ve ever read.

What item in your wardrobe could you not live without?
I travel a lot, so my personal shoe test is whether I can run through the airport in them. My Gianvito Rossi pump high heels pass the test every time; the man is an absolute genius.

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