A Canadian designer's love story with Hangzhou
There are many stores in Yishang (E-fashion) Town, a major textile and clothing center in Hangzhou, capital city of East China's Zhejiang province, but the one called JAC immediately jumps out with its collection of photos containing the Canadian shop owner Rozemarie Cuevas-Otero.
One of these photos even shows her posing beside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who attended the launch of her brand during his trip to Hangzhou for the G20 summit in 2016.
Cuevas-Otero's store in E-fashion town. [Photo provided to ezhejiang.gov.cn]
Cuevas-Otero was only 22 when she started her own fashion brand in her hometown in Vancouver, Canada. A fortuitous introduction to a person named Wang Jie a few years later in 2013 then saw her expanding her brand's footprint from the North American market to China.
A Hangzhou native, Wang was then searching for a foreign designer to create works for her clothing factory. After meeting Cuevas-Otero, Wang invited the Canadian to Hangzhou to attend events such as Hangzhou International Fashion Week to learn more about the local fashion industry and what it could offer.
Cuevas-Otero speaks with a young customer. [Photo provided to ezhejiang.gov.cn]
But it was efficiency that eventually convinced Cuevas-Otero to make the big move. The Canadian explained that she was astounded that Wang's team needed just one day to prepare all the fabrics required to turn her design ideas into reality.
"She was like a little girl falling into a candy jar when she saw what we brought to her. I think the efficiency convinced her that she would be able to realize her fashion ambitions here," Wang said.
The complete supply chain of the fashion industry in Hangzhou and the beneficial policies enjoyed by the tenants of E-fashion Town were also major factors that led to the decision to launch JAC in China, added Cuevas-Otero.
According to the Canadian, her brand uses high-quality fabrics that are produced all over China. Fabrics like silk, cotton, linen, wool, cashmere and mohair are sourced directly from Hangzhou.
"One of the best things about E-fashion Town is the support it receives from the community, the local government and other industry members. Businesses like ours have received rental and housing subsidies which have made life much easier," she said.
Cuevas-Otero works on her designs in the studio. [Photo provided to ezhejiang.gov.cn]
Having lived in China for the past nine years, Cuevas-Otero has naturally developed a keen understanding of the domestic fashion market, which she describes as being "obsessed with keeping up with rapid changes".
"The fashion industries in different countries around the world are constantly changing because everyone wants something fresh," she said. "But in China, when something changes, everyone tends to follow. When big sleeves are in fashion, everyone does big sleeves. If bell-bottoms are in fashion, everyone will soon be wearing and selling bell-bottoms."
However, the designer has also noticed that young Chinese consumers are less inclined to follow such trends. Rather, they prefer to create their own styles and tend to favor independent brands, a phenomenon that spells good news for designers like Cuevas-Otero.
On its online store on e-commerce platform T-mall, JAC has amassed 20,000 followers and boasts a pristine feedback page that has no negative reviews.
This success, said Cuevas-Otero, was made possible by staying true to her brand's purpose of empowering women through fashion. She explained that her designs reflect this through a combination of materials with contrasting textures, such as soft silk with hard leather.
"Such a combination makes a garment well-structured and once a woman puts it on, she will feel powerful and confident," she explained. Another key reason, she added, is Hangzhou itself.
"Hangzhou is a city filled with beautiful people and scenes of nature. It has constantly inspired me to create better works," she said.
(Written by Zhan Bingqian. Zhan is master's student majoring in international journalism and communication at Tsinghua University. She wrote this following a field survey tour in Zhejiang province from Aug 9-15.)