Designer Calvin Luo on China’s Booming Designer Brand Scene

Calvin Luo, founder of the eponymous label CALVINLUO, is next to be welcomed at Jing Daily community of individuals shaping China’s booming luxury fashion industry. These profiles spotlight industry leaders who contribute to national and global fashion communities, from creatives and influencers to business executives and entrepreneurs.

The Gen-Z designer was born to be a creative talent. Luo founded her eponymous label in 2014 after a two-year study at Parsons School of Design and launched the Fall/Winter 2015 collection at New York Fashion Week via CFDA recommendation. At the time, he was the youngest designer on NYFW’s official agenda.

Born in Chongqing, China, raised in Shenzhen, educated in New York and working in Shanghai, Calvin Luo is a typical global citizen: with a multicultural background and an inclusive mindset. Launching the brand with womenswear collections that blurred the lines between femininity and masculinity, the young talent took a similar approach to menswear and launched his first standalone collection for Spring/Summer 2019.

With over 10,500 UGC posts on Xiaohongshu and nearly 100,000 cult social followers on Weibo and Xiaohongshu, Luo’s brand is one of China’s trendiest fashion brands. Some of the top products have garnered substantial organic endorsements from celebrities and fashion KOLs. Although the fashion industry is experiencing turbulence due to the current peak of COVID-19 (including the postponement of Shanghai Fashion Week), CALVINLUO has actually seen sales growth this season.

Chinese idol Yuyan wears pieces from CALVINLUO’s Fall/Winter 2022 collection. Photo: CALVINLUO’s Weibo

Earlier this month, the brand also announced the release of its sub-line, DTW, featuring a new visual aesthetic and a new business model. Daily Jing spoke to him about his vision for the brand and the challenges and opportunities for Chinese designer brands during the self-quarantine period in Shanghai.

Jing Daily: Since you launched CALVINLUO, what are the most significant changes the brand has seen?

Calvin Luo: The COVID-19 outbreak has actually been a key driver of China’s fashion industry. I remember the 2020 Fall/Winter season saw a huge demand from local buyers as they couldn’t travel overseas and so looked to domestic showrooms. At the same time, many local media and social platforms have grown rapidly since the pandemic, which also helps brand communication.

As a result, CALVINLUO has recorded significant growth over the past two years. Considering this, our team has grown with more professionals with various specialties, from product development and marketing to communications.

You have lived in other cities like before moving to Shanghai. What is the vibe in Shanghai and how does the city differ from other fashion hubs?

I feel that people in Shanghai are more open-minded. And the atmosphere here is very friendly for a fashion start-up. Our office is located in the French Concession, which embraces a laid-back lifestyle compared to other fast-paced metropolises.

How would you profile CALVINLUO’s target consumers?

To be honest, I don’t have a specific image in mind. As we are currently focusing on B2B channels, I do not have direct access to our customers. However, I started learning more about our consumers on social media and made some interesting discoveries. While we typically summarize our key customer base as Gen Z and Millennial women, we do see some variations in age and body type in certain regional markets. So, I welcome different types of customers and I try to be more inclusive, taking into account physical, geographical and cultural differences.

We see many of CALVINLUO’s iconic products recording extremely high sales figures and generating substantial UGC posts on Xiaohongshu. How do you build hero products?

I regard products as the core of brand competitiveness. I would say that a flagship product consists of 70% design effort and 30% marketing effort. In fact, we didn’t expect some products to be the heroes before they were launched, and we didn’t intentionally create such iconic products.

However, I have categorized some characteristics of items with impressive sales figures. First, signature symbols represent brand identity and culture. Second, flagships are usually very inclusive in terms of colors and shapes. Finally, a reasonable price is important to convince the general clientele of Chinese designer brands.

Can you share with us the most impressive brand campaigns?

The virtual runway for season 10 (F/W 2021 collection), which broke the line between the front row and the backstage of typical fashion shows. It was one of the most impressive seasonal launches and most successful post-pandemic programs. It took us almost three months to coordinate all the participants, including celebrities, KOLs and many other creative talents, and it was well received by the public.

You launched CALVINLUO’s sub-line, DTW, earlier this month. Can you tell us more about this?

DTW will present a totally different brand image and business model from CALVINLUO. The reason I started the sub-line is that I got used to the traditional flow of the fashion industry and want to try something new. Thus, this new label will take a more spontaneous approach, featuring the “Drop” model with no time limit or number of looks. Most importantly, we will solidify our commitment to sustainability by recycling fabrics from CALVINLUO inventory.

Looks from the underline of CALVINLUO, DTW. Photo: CALVINLUO’s Weibo

Have you considered a global expansion in the future?

Global markets have always been on our map. We were on the agenda at New York and Paris Fashion Weeks and collaborated with e-commerce platforms like Net-A-Porter and SSENSE as well as PR agencies and showrooms overseas. . But some overseas multi-brand store collaborations have been halted due to the pandemic outbreak. We have been keeping tabs on different markets and hope to expand our global footprint in the future.

What is the biggest challenge for Chinese designer brands?

I must say that rivalries between local designer brands have intensified in recent years. It is increasingly difficult for emerging brands to stand out in the market. Meanwhile, this group of Chinese designers, many of whom graduated from recognized fashion schools, have a decent academic background in design. However, their business knowledge is relatively limited, which of course presents challenges for them to manage a team and constantly seek opportunities for the business.