As mentioned in our last post, there are many foreign designers based in China that are hoping to bring a flare of the exotic flavour to the local fashion scene in Shanghai. iQubator wants to give some of these designers the opportunity to reach out to our followers and talk about themselves and their brands and it’s worth taking the time to read what they have said. Meet very interesting and creative designers with us. – This week we had a nice chat with Alexandra Rolfe a British designer with a passion for the 60s, collars and all things vintage. Her and her partner have their own shop which is also her studio space in a lane on Shaanxi Nan Lu, called “Select 18” which is definitely worth visiting. Here you travel back in time to find unique rarities and very special pieces.
iQubator: When did you start designing your own clothes?
Alexandra: Moving from East London to Hong Kong I soon realized the shopping environment was completely different and I was surrounded by lots of brands and small independent shops which didn’t stock many sizes. I regularly went back to London to buy vintage clothes to wear in Hong Kong although sometimes I did feel abit out of place! I just couldn’t find clothes that were me. After many years of travelling in China visiting factories for my job I got a better understanding of production and learnt a lot. This inspired me to create my own brand for the future. At week-ends I would take a trip over to Shenzhen where there are some very good tailors and started creating my own designs plus an extra couple of pieces to sell in my boyfriends store in Hong Kong.
iQubator: Did you also study fashion design?
Alexandra: I studied BA Fashion & Textile management, which is the whole fashion business cycle. It starts from design process through to production to merchandising, buying to marketing and in the final year concentrated on management. In my 3rd year we needed to do an industrial placement, which I got at Oasis Stores (http://www.oasis-stores.com/?lng=en&ctry=GB&) I opted for buying and once graduated I returned to the Oasis as Assistant Buyer and worked my way up before moving to Gap (http://www.gap.com ) and later to Hong Kong for a German brand called Colloseum (http://www.colloseum.net )
iQubator: Did someone inspire your designs?
Alexandra: Frankly a lot of my inspiration comes from the past, as I love the 60’s I am very influenced by Mary Quant. I love collars or any kind of neck details and so did she. Naturally Twiggy was very iconic during this period too. I love typical shift dresses, the shape is easy and classic. Alexa Chung Is someone I always feel would wear my designs so well, she has a thing for collars and has a very British aesthetic. In general I like her effortless style.
iQubator: Where would you look for inspirations?
Alexandra: I find old cities inspiring, for example Shanghai is full of art deco references, which I would love to merge the details into future collections. A lot of old things captivate me whether it be a building, tiles or even a book. There is always elements which fuel new ideas.
iQubator: How do you think your brand fits in the Chinese market?
Alexandra: From what I can see fashion demand is veering towards uniqueness. My style is niche but this important now. I have great customers who get the look and are experimental and are open to try which is great for me. My brand is very personal to my style and my journey, it’s authentic and now is the right time to share with Chinese girls.
Alexandra: I have only dresses from my collection and lots of special vintage pieces, which I have been hoarding for years, even they don’t fit I can’t throw them away!
iQubator: Only dresses?
Alexandra: I would say 99% are dresses, the odd skirt and blouse but I rarely wear!
iQubator: Even in winter?
Alexandra: Yes (laughs). Of course coats for winter though! I haven’t worn Jeans since I was at university and I used to wear ‘Cheap Mondays’ the days of being super skinny!
iQubator: What do you carry with you all the time?
Alexandra: Lipstick. I always have my red lipstick it completes my look. Apart from that nothing particularly out of the ordinary!
iQubator: So your red lipstick is your favourite piece?
Alexandra: Generally I wear only MAC, I have a new one from them which is called ‘Retro matte’
iQubator: If you were a colour, what would it be and why?
Alexandra: Probably green. There are lots of different shades of green, which I like to wear and it works well with white collars.
iQubator: What are your upcoming projects or plans?
Alexandra: At the moment I am shaping up my brand and will launch a new name soon. I came to Shanghai with the first priority to set up the store and this became the platform to sell my collections and understand Chinese customer. We have been here almost two years now, I have learnt a lot and now ready to take my brand to the next level. I plan to develop as an independant lifestyle brand
iQubator: Are you more focused on having physical stores or online shops?
Alexandra: Online is naturally important here but I would also like physical stores as I want customers to understand the brand from walking into our stores and build an emotional connection
iQubator: Was it hard for you to find this store in the beginning?
Alexandra: Before we physically settled we did a few pop ups, the last one before we found this space was in XTD which we did for 3 months and was great exposure. Here a friend introduced us to this location. We were toying with should we set up on the street front or a lane house. As this is a really great space we took it and decided we have to work a lot harder on the marketing side. Its still very central and even we are in the lane, it’s a beautiful lane, which attracts a lot of people and tourists.
iQubator: Do you have more Chinese customers than foreign customers?
Alexandra: 80% is Chinese, we have a lot from different parts of China also many Taiwanese and Hong Kong
iQubator: So do you manufacture in China?
Alexandra: Yes only China – I have some good connnections from my previous job, which I co-operate with and a tailor locally to help with small quantities.
iQubator: How is your average pricing?
Alexandra: Prices range from 600 – 2000 for wool coats
iQubator: Do you have some peak seasons, where you do sell more than usually?
Alexandra: I generally find A/W very good and as soon as the sun comes out summer dresses are snapped up
iQubator: Where do you usually advertise?
Alexandra: Now we have our official WeChat account, this is the biggest channel for advertising. Word of mouth is also very good and magazines
We thank Alexandra for sharing her story with us.