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iQubator Fashion meets Louko

On August the 28th iQubator Fashion met Emilie Lobel, French woman founder of LOUKO 路口. Listening to her story gave us the possibility to deeply understand the reasons behind her style and creativity. Looking at her clothes flooded our eyes with beauty and unspeakable emotions.

 

iQubator: What brought you to Shanghai?

Emilie: My husband and I decided to come in China for a new experience in Asia, a part of a world which has always been attractive for both of us. In France I was a legal advisor, but I always loved fashion and the singular Parisian style, so trendy. In Shanghai, I seized the opportunity to start my business in a creative world that pleases and motivates me. My goal was to propose high quality garments, French design and tailor-made, thanks to the small team of tailors who works with me. Then I started to design and produce styles and up to this moment 2 collections have already been brought to the public, in France and in China.

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Qubator: How many collections per year do you do?

Emilie: Two collections per year, fall-winter and spring-summer, each collection usually has 30-35 pieces. I propose a collection and then details can be changed according to my customers’ needs and desires. This way my customers can be somehow involved in the creation process and this I find very important. It gives everyone the possibility to have something special and unique at the same time.

iQubator: Is there an arts style that inspires you more than others?

Emilie: Yes, I am very fond of Art Deco. My creations are all inspired by this visual arts design style born in France in the beginning of the 20th century.

iQubator: Where does your personal style come from?

Emilie: Certainly from Paris. I used to be a business woman myself, so now I mainly design clothes for active business women. My clothes are elegant, but also comfortable, perfect for long busy days, but also for a drink with your colleagues or friends right after work.

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iQubator: How can your customers find you?

Emilie: I very often attend designer markets in Shanghai, but customers can meet me at my show-room based in the ex-French concession where I organize private sales as well. People can reach me by email contact@louko.fr, or via Wechat ID: LOUKO_clothes
For France, my clothes can as well be found on the online store: www.louko.fr and for China, customers can buy them on Wechat.

Interview with the designer Fernanda Sung

A few weeks ago, iQubator went to a design market in Shanghai. There, we had the luck to meet the lovely Fernanda Sung, a beautiful, young lady from Brazil. She is a jewelry designer and is quite new to the Chinese market. Not only her cheerful appearance but also her gorgeous designs were standing out in the crowd. We had to ask her for an interview and she was so kind to accept it. This week’s designer talk with Fernanda Sung.

iQubator: First of all thank you Fernanda for coming today! So let’s start with the first question, and let’s start from the beginning.  When did you start to design your own jewelry?

Fernanda: I started designing jewelry when I was still in Brazil. I loved accessories since fernanda products 5I was a kid, and I really liked to work with my hands so I was always doing this kind of stuff. Professionally, during college I majored in accessories and jewelry design. In the beginning I had two other business partners which were my colleagues so we came up with a brand and started to work with a supplier and tried to understand the industry a little bit. We were working together for about 1 or 2 years and then afterwards, when we graduated, I moved to Italy to study packaging design and when I moved back to Brazil, I set up my own brand. After a while, I moved to China to study Chinese. I was working a full-time design related job, but I wanted to go back to my passion so I quit my job and officially launched my own brand.  So I guess on and off, I have been designing jewelry for about 8 years.

 

iQubator: What brought you to design?

Fernanda:  Since I was a kid, I liked drawing and crafts in general, so I’ve been always doing this kind of stuff. I heard about this jewelry design course when I was applying for college and I decided to just go for it. From there on, I fell in love with designing. Most of the times, I do fashion oriented jewelries but back in Brazil, I used to have more diverse products so I work with local communities  doing crafts and more conceptual. I think a little part of me have always loved design and creative, and there are just so many possibilities. It’s not just about the jewelry, it’s about everything. It’s about the way you see things and present them.

 

iQubator: Where do you draw your inspirations from?

Fernanda: I guess most of my inspirations come from nature, from Brazil. I think especially for jewelry. I also really like art deco so I had a collection that is in Brazil that was inspired by art deco. I guess for the most part it comes from growing up in Brazil and the closeness that I’ve always experienced with Brazil. I want my collections to send out happy messages that are derived from the nature of the planet and humanity.

iQubator: How do you think your brand fits in the Chinese market?fernanda products 4

Fernanda: Oh wow that’s a tough one. I think adapting is the key. In Brazil, people wear really big pieces and that’s not really what goes on in China; jewelries here are usually very delicate. But one thing I like about the Chinese market is that there so are many people and different styles in China so there’s potential for everything. I’ve been trying to make some products little bit smaller than what they would be in Brazil, add a bit more delicacy in them. Another good thing is that Chinese consumers are quite adaptive as well. Sometimes people want to have a big piece or something that brightens up their day. So in the Chinese market, it’s a constantly learning and changing process.

iQubator: Here’s a more personal question; what do you have in your closet?

Fernanda: Normally, I like to wear a lot of skirts and dresses. My summer clothes are usually very colorful, so I have all these flowery dresses and just colorful pieces. And during the winter I wear all black because it’s so easy, it fits the season and I think it also goes really well with my designs; I try to wear my own design as often as possible. I like to match bright shoes, with a basic outfit. If I have something colorful it also pops comparing to the black color.

fernanda products 3iQubator: Among your collections, what is your favorite piece and why?

Fernanda: Haha it’s hard to pick a favorite one. Currently I really love my new collection, especially the ones with tassels because I love the colors. It’s a very trendy look at the moment.

The previous collection that I really love was my art deco collection that I made in Brazil. They were bigger pieces, there was an onyx stone and they were all gold coated, so it was like black and gold. They were beautiful and it was really a nice experience to work with them because in Brazil I used to have a little different brand purpose than in China. It was nice to have that collection, that is a little bit more special and it’s also not an absurd price for what it is.

iQubator: Are you planning to go back to Brazil in the future?

Fernanda: I don’t think I will live in China forever. Don’t get me wrong, I love China.  But I think the place I’m going to settle down eventually is going to be Brazil since I have my friends and family there. But I actually really like Shanghai so I just want to stay here for some time. I don’t have any plans to go back now. I’m starting my brand here and I’m very excited about where it will go. I want to settle down everything here first, and eventually I will go back to Brazil. It’s a place close to my heart.

iQubator: How do you explain your style?

Fernanda: For the jewelry I like to say they are pieces that whimsical, bright, and happy. And this also relates to my personal style. I always like to make people smile. I like to believe if you’re nice to people, you just smile to them and brighten up their day, the energy passes on forever. Everybody has their bad days and I’ve probably not been nice to someone, but I try to keep it positive and I try to make my pieces also about that. So I would say a little bit whimsical and playful sometimes they have a smart twist, like those animal earrings, that the tails are also the hooks.

I was in China and I was watching this documentary, it was a festival for Brazilian fernanda products 4documentaries and one of the women who was talking, was wearing one of my earrings! And I don’t even know her. It’s just really amazing to know there’s a bunch of people who are going to buy your product and they’re really going to wear it. Because sometimes it’s just an impulse but I want people to wear it every day and become their favorite piece and feel special when they have it. The style is also about that, it’s about feeling special.

iQubator: If you want customers to reach you how should they contact you?

Fernanda: I’m building my website, I’m selling into shops in Shanghai, one of them is called “Hey Jewel”, they are in Huating Lu near Huaihai Lu. They are a jewelry boutique so they sell jewelries from designers from all over the world. They also have a Taobao shop so anyone can find my pieces online. They’re selling the newest collection right now and the animal collection. The animal collection will probably be in other shops soon too because everybody just loves it. So I have these two shops, also people that I meet I add them on Wechat. That’s why I am going to open a Wechat shop as well. So they can reach me through either my website or wechat, or they can find my collections in those two shops as well.

fernanda products 1iQubator: Do you design from home or do you have a studio?

Fernanda: I always make the first piece in my home studio. I make the mother mold by hand and I make it on my own. I like to make the first piece by hand; it adds something special and since the pieces are very organic I don’t like doing it on computer.

I make the first piece and then I have a supplier in Shanghai and they take a mold and reproduce what I’m doing. I also have a few pieces that are 100% handmade. This one, just on production took maybe 2 hours. And you might think, okay, it’s a ring, 2 hours it’s not so much, but if you think there are so many and you have to solder and cut and send it. There are a lot of processes involved. And sometimes I just have to leave the product in salt water and that also takes some time. I prefer to work with my manufacturers; they also guarantee that every piece is going to be the same. And of course I’m very strict about quality control.

iQubator: Was it difficult in the beginning when you came to Shanghai?

Fernanda: Yes. Actually, like I said, I started my brand here after I’d been here for a while but I think it’s always hard to start up a brand even in your own city, your own country and if you’re abroad it’s even more difficult. My Chinese is basic, I can speak. I speak Chinese to the suppliers but there are still some parts of the production where you have to get it right. It’s about everything, my network here is not as good as it was in Brazil, my knowledge and my network with the suppliers is not as good as in Brazil, the words itself, how to explain is different.

It’s definitely a challenge but I’m also enjoying it. Shanghai is a very business oriented city so once you put yourself in this position that you want to make it work, things happen really fast.

iQubator: So we met at the design market, is that how you usually advertise?

Fernanda: Yes, I went on holidays and came back from Brazil. I spent almost 2 months there. So I came back at the end of March and since then I’ve been trying to apply to more and more markets. It’s really nice to get to know people because it’s not just clients, people that go there to buy immediately but there’s also a lot of interesting people that are just curious, maybe they work at a magazine, maybe they are like you (iQubator). It’s really nice. I’m trying to do more and more of this kind of markets to get to meet more people.

iQubator: Do you advertise through other channels as well?

Fernanda: I’m starting to work with social media. But it’s a learning process.

iQubator: If you were a color, what would you be?

Fernanda: Oh god, I don’t know. I never had an answer for ‘what’s your favorite color?’ because it depends. But this time I will choose green, a bluish green kind of similar to turquoise. I also chose it for because it’s a bright, happy and positive color.

iQubator: What are your upcoming projects and plans?

Fernanda: I’m looking forward to experiment with other materials and silver.  Like I have this collection that is not only silver, there are these tassels. Actually in China there are so many interesting materials to work with and I think my next project will be a new jewelry collection with some other material, and silver of course but just trying to explore more varieties. I’m excited.

 

 

 

9 Steps to Setting up a Business in China

First step is to understand China and that it is not just one market. Learn about China, but don’t think a book about “how to do business in China” will ever be enough. China is the country of contrasts where almost any answer can be as correct as its opposite

Buy a market report or hire a consulting company. Although if done in large enough extent this can offer good insights, it is often extremely expensive and the answers still very theoretical. To save both money and time, it is recommended to jump to step 3 directly.

Start up a company in HK and get a virtual office in China (phone number and address). Companies like Regus or Servcorp offer this, and new companies like iQubator complement these services with virtual assistant services depending on your needs.

Move to China, send a representative over or hire someone local in China to do the required research. This is often much cheaper than doing it from overseas because of the cost of living and salaries and it also offers a much better insight. This can be done either the traditional way  through local consulting companies and serviced offices, or through one-stop-shops companies that offer you toolboxes to do it yourself. An example is the HK and Shanghai based iQubator that offers an incubation-like service.

Build your guanxi (business network) in China and get a deeper understanding. These things are recommended to be done before starting up a company. IQubator offers all tools needed for this from office solutions, virtual offices, virtual assistants to recruitment, hiring, visa services, HR, accounting and local invoicing. Basically everything you need to start up directly.

Since 2010 it is possible to receive payments online through cross-border payment systems such as Alipay, Tenpay, 99bill and others. iQubator can help translating the website, adapt it to the market and integrate the payment systems in it. Together with the local representative you have a fully operational business in China that you can use to try out the market and further develop your network.

After about 3-6 months of research, network development and trials it is time to incorporate the company. Many people think a Representative Office so called Rep Office or RO is the first step. Actually, through tool-box companies, or Business Support Offices, you get much more than a RO can offer at lower cost and low risk, since you can cancel the contract at any time. The best way to go is a WFOE, Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise.

Choose your registration agent. This can either be the company that you have conducted theresearch and trials with, or hire more people through the company to assist you. Normal cost for a WFOE registration ranges from 5,000 Euro for a consulting company to 15,000 Euro for a manufacturing company. The minimum investment needed also varies between 50,000 Euro to 1 Million Euro, both depending on the type of business license but also depending on what other licenses you would like to apply for later on. You just need to pay in 20% of the capital during the registration, you get up to 2 years to pay in the rest. An important thing to keep in mind is that it takes 3-6 months to register a company (compared to 1-7 days in HK) and it takes even longer to close it down. Be therefore sure before starting such a venture and rather stay longer in the incubator than taking unnecessary risks.

Once your company is registered and you have your own offices, you should be counting on having at least 3-5 employees, but you can still outsource the operational services such as HR and Accounting for a monthly fee. When you receive your business license you can officially begin business in China in your own name. You do though still need to wait a while for your tax license and special accounting computer and invoice machine from the government before you can issue Fapiao (tax invoice). The fapiao is often the main reason to choose a business support office that also can help you with these kind of issues, since most local businesses will not wish to do business with you unless you can offer fapiao.