China's international fashion pioneer seems to have the keys to success when it comes to international expansion.
Making its official North American debut on Tuesday night, JNBY walked its 2014 spring-summer collection down the runway in front of a new audience at Toronto Fashion Week, known as the second largest event of its kind in North America.
Started in 1994 in the southern Chinese city of Hangzhou by a group of 12 former art and design students who together have been creating garments using only natural fibres, JNBY, which stands for Just Naturally Be Yourself, has made a name for itself with its innovative silhouettes, soft fabrics and contemporary designs that stray from the culturally-influenced designs Chinese brands have been known for in its foreign markets.
Having grown rapidly back home since its inception, the brand has been focusing its efforts on international expansion in recent years and seen immense success. While most of its 700 stores are in China, JNBY distributes its products to more than 30 countries, including Japan, Spain, Singapore and Thailand. And now, it is ready to take North America by storm.
Toronto's fashion industry got to see just what the brand is all about as JNBY debuted its collection on Tuesday. Raffaele Megaro, the company's brand manager, described their spring collection as a more deconstructed JNBY, full of earthy tones with designs focused on balancing comfort and style.
"It has a vintage sense to it. The fabrications are key, so you 're going to see a lot of linen, especially for spring-summer," he told Xinhua. "You're also going to see hand embroidery that's been brushed and made to look old, it's a technique that we have really fell in love with, and the simplicity, you're going to see quite a bit of simplicity with us."
Megaro said they've managed to build a bit of a cult following, attracting women of all backgrounds with their moveable and versatile designs.
"Knowing your DNA and knowing our customer (is key), and I really believe our brand has evolved and listened to the needs of what the international women really want," he stressed.
Other than their simple understated designs and team of designers that are well-versed in overseas markets, there is little doubt the brand's business strategy is a big key to their success as well. Operations manager Alex Zhuo Xie said since deciding to enter the Canadian market, they've set up three stores in Vancouver to test the waters and get the feedback they needed. With that, they realized the biggest challenge for them was to create designs that would fit the body types of their new market.
"When we entered this market, we took a really long time to get information from the customer," said Xie. "All the feedback of every single styles, the shoulder lines, the chest measurement and the length of the pants, every part of the garment, how they're going to fit the North American local market. We sent those information back to China, and the designer team and the production team. They just keep consistently improving their sizing and measurement to fit this market."
It's been a testing experience, especially in North America, which Megaro said has been a fairly difficult market to break into. In addition to creating designs that will stand out in this over- saturated market, there is another obstacle that Megaro believes is holding back many other Chinese fashion brands as well.
"We've definitely come across the 'Made in China' label, there' s definitely a stigma to that, but I feel that is so in a sense 10 years ago," he said. "People are definitely taking more responsibility for their brand and for their production, and JNBY as a brand definitely takes that into account."
"We are doing things right and what we're doing is try to offer women a different side of fashion, something that won't fade away within five months," he added.
The team has been waiting for five years, patiently doing their homework in the meantime, for the right moment to debut their collection. And now comes the most challenging part as the brand debates on a question that could potentially change everything.
"The question is: Is this brand going to be more a commercial brand like Zara, those kind of international operation, or is (it) still keeping a more creative frontier in the fashion world for a more niche market?" Xie said that's the question the designers are thinking right now. "So we'll see in the near future, maybe (in) one or two years."
With another store set to open in the Canadian city of Calgary just next month, Megaro said they'll soon be making plans to open their first retail store in Toronto as well.
"We feel like we have a connection to the Canadian market," he said. "There is that woman that fits with our DNA here, she's very traveled, again she's in love with the arts, I think Toronto has such an amazing community in terms of fashion and the arts that it feels right."
And judging from the reaction from the audience, the feeling seems to be mutual.
"I think what's wonderful is that it gives a whole new look and a whole new feeling that might not exist at the minute," Moira Romano, founder and editor of My ETV Media, commented after the show. "I thought it was very refreshing."
JNBY's debut has piqued blogger Christina Cravero's interest in Chinese fashion brands and she is hoping to see more.
"It'd be nice to bring in a little bit more of Asian designers coming into Canada and showcasing what they have, because they do have beautiful designs, it's just I don't think North America's seen what everyone has to offer," she said. "I think it'd be great to have them come more often."
Kicking off on Monday, the fashion gala in downtown Toronto will run through the week till Oct. 26.