Australia-China Council

Catwalk diplomacy

Model on catwalk

China's fashion related industries are booming and recent years have seen a massive influx of international fashion and designer brands enter China to take advantage of booming retail sales and insatiable consumer demand. Whether this demand stems from young people, the emerging middle class, entrepreneurs or even government officials, fashion has now become a leading indicator of cosmopolitan lifestyles, status and success in modern China.

Unknown to most, China already has a well-developed domestic fashion ecosystem, with domestic brands and designers showing their collections at China Fashion Week in Beijing for the last seventeen years.

This fashion ecosystem and industry at large also plays a significant role in China's economy and has far reaching implications for other sectors including retail, real estate and infrastructure (shopping malls), e-commerce, logistics, creative services and of course manufacturing. While the promotion of creative industries and e-commerce has garnered strong support on the Central Government, (over) consumption of luxury products has become a topic of concern and been part of policy reform and crack-down on corruption and extravagance.

Australia too has many of its own home-grown and dearly loved fashion brands and designers, however, the scale of China creates challenges for Aussie brands in cracking the China market. To rectify this and to formally establish fashion industry relations with China, in 2012 Timothy Coghlan – an expert on the Chinese fashion industry created the Australia-China Fashion Alliance (ACFA) that is now the flagship project developing fashion industry links between the two countries.

Now in its third year, ACFA has utilised ‘Catwalk Diplomacy’ to enhance bilateral communication, commercial opportunities and cultural exchanges for fashion designers, brands, institutions and related businesses in the fashion sector.

In March 2013 and with support from the Australia China Council, ACFA partnered with the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival  (VAMFF) to host the first official China Fashion delegation to Australia to attend fashion shows, conduct seminars with the Australia-China Business Council and even shear some ultra-fine merino wool in rural Victoria.

In total, over 1000 meaningful person-to-person interactions and meetings were held with Australian counterparts by members of the Chinese delegation that included: China Fashion Association, China National Garments Association, fashion boutiques, fashion journalists and designers. Following the visit, Mr. Li Dangqi – Chairman of the China Fashion Association (that runs China Fashion Week) stated “I hope that the China – Australia fashion and designer exchanges can grow into the future and prosper with mutual support and co-operation to develop a long lasting fashion industries relationship.”

With support from the Australian Embassy in Beijing, in October 2013 an Australian fashion industry delegation including the Chairman and CEO of VAMFF plus Australian award winning fashion label From Britten attended China Fashion Week in Beijing and conducted retail tours and media engagements to further deepen the bilateral fashion industry relationship. Graeme Lewsey, CEO of the VAMFF concluded that “ACFA is driving collaborative and mutually beneficial opportunities with China… as we continue to support and promote the Australian and Victorian fashion industry,[ACFA] is paramount to our evolution and future success.” 

Key future initiatives will include: signing a fashion industries MOU between Australia and China, designer collaborations and an exhibition in Australia by China’s top haute couture designer Guo Pei. Furthermore, ACFA will facilitate buyers from Chinese retail stores to attend Australian Fashion Weeks to review and purchase collections, plus enable Australian brands and designers to conduct pop-up stores in Chinese multi-brand stores such as Lane Crawford and Galeries Lafayette to test the market and promote Australia’s sophisticated and unique fashion design.