I’m a planner. And like most of us Type A aliens (maybe not so much in NYC-because how can you be Type B and survive in this city??), I can only be described as over anxious, too worried about the future and as a “cross the T’s, dot the I’s” kind of gal. I have been this way since, I don’t even know when. The ultimate realization of this reality probably occurred the day I sat down at the dinner table, grilling my parents on what would be a good, lucrative career for myself.
I was 10 years old. Enough said.
Therefore, it makes complete sense that I would soon find my self majoring in Mandarin and working for a Chinese company. The Chinese are successful because of these attributes. They are proficient in long-term success. But it can often be confusing to determine whether or not the Chinese are more likely to focus on immediate results or if they lean on a “slow and steady wins the race” type approach.
This is something I have always struggled with. I have a passion thatI am excited to pursue and growth with, therefore I become impatient. But moving quickly can be more detrimental to my success than, say, taking the time to work slowly and efficiently towards a goal.
The Chinese skyline has changed dramatically over the past 5-10 years and China’s Opening and Reform movement was only a mere 30 years ago. So, it’s obvious that the Chinese are hoping to grow and surpass the rest of the world in an efficient manner. However, in order to assume position numero uno and to be on par with countries who have been in the game for much longer, there are often corners cut and a certain degree of innovation and creativity that must be sacrificed. The more common course of action is to learn from those you follow, and slowly integrate your own characteristics as you build. China, all too often, falls short with this.
But, Helen Lee may be a breath of fresh air.
Lee is a leading figure in Shanghai’s emerging fashion scene. A graduate of China’s most prestigious fashion institute, LaSalle International Design College, Helen’s talent has been recognized, receiving awards like China’s “Jeanswest Fashion Award” and Belgium’s “Les Etoiles De La Mode.” Recently out of the wood work, she presented her HELEN LEE SS13 collection.
“My goal is to establish brand positioning from the very beginning and carry it through without changing back and forth. That way, a brand can go far.”
Launching Insh (her initial brand) circa 2004, Helen Lee was motivated to express the spirit of Shanghai through fashion-depicting Shanghai’s icons, people, skyline and ideas- to create an aesthetic true to the evolution of Shanghai. She hoped to present the world with an image of Shanghai that differentiated from colonial 1930’s Shanghai and the Communist –Era aesthetic that dominated the country for so many years- really inhibiting their creative juices from flowing. However, her goal as a designer, was to establish a brand, not just as a platform for immediate and rapid success.
In a Jing Daily interview, she was quoted,
“Since I founded Insh, there have been corporations trying to invest in my work, but my ambition is bigger. One cannot measure a brand’s growth by its funds.”
Despite her daily tribulations with factories and lack of manpower (a struggle for many aspiring designer labels), Helen Lee managed to capture the attention of many major department stores with the likes of Lane Crawford and international corporations seeking to collaborate with her designs. However, she accepted these ventures with caution, fearing her status as a temporary blip on the charts.
Her recent entrance into select boutiques, her small part in the Lane Crawford Botanica collection and her collaboration with Disney for it’s 90th birthday allow for just enough exposure without compromising too much of the HELEN LEE ethos.
Perhaps another reason I’m attracted to Lee’s collections, is her staunch persistence to collaborate only with brands that agree to feature her brand on a certain cultural level with steady growth. Legendary status today, right now, is not what’s important, according to Lee. Consistency is how you hold on to your most devout followers. That relationship is the most important. And I couldn’t agree more.
“We set the bar high for ourselves. Only those who want to feature the brand at a certain “cultural level” will become my collaborators; otherwise, I would rather keep my current steady growth.”
This is a rarity in Chinese business culture. We far too often notice that the motivation is focused on how much and what can be gained from building certain relationships, with on eye on the person, and the other on the monetary reward.
The Insh and HELEN LEE brands look to target those aged 18-26, a younger and more relaxed crowd, hoping to act as a brand that people turn to for comfort and style and better yet, a slight flair of Chinese element.
Realizing after a few years that her Insh customer was growing up and their lifestyles had changed, she decided to develop a more mature brand. They were no longer wearing jeans and a t-shirt. They were growing into a more sophisticated lifestyle.
The key to maintaining your clientele is to grow with them. As a result, her namesake label HELEN LEE was born, transforming Insh into a sustainable brand.
“Now that our brand operation is good, I don’t have to compromise my future goal. Our goal is to become a role model in China’s local fashion industry. There are Chinese designers who put on shows at international fashion weeks. I don’t think we are ready. We will have to be absolutely sure that we can set the runway on fire before confirming to attend an international fashion show. I believe we have to go step by step without rushing into anything. We will be able to do it one day.”
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