Chinese Platform, ICY is Leading the Way for Fashion
One of the shows that caught our editors’ eye during New York Fashion Week, Spring/Summer 2020 this past September at Spring Studios was ICY Presents Dynasty. The second runway presentation in New York by the platform showcased four designers: Leaf Xia, Eva Xu, HIUMAN, and Fengyi Tan.
After watching the impressive runway show, we couldn’t help but wonder how brands in China are approaching fashion differently. After all, China boasts some of the most fashion forward consumers in the world and traditional luxury brands have invested billions of dollars to reach them.
But what about home grown Chinese fashion? The apparatus behind the brands presented in New York is a platform called ICY. It was founded by Ms. Yingying Gu only a few years ago and is now doing well over $100 million in sales annually. Somewhat of an incubator, ICY has quickly become one of the most dynamic and internet integrated business models – able to reach far ahead into consumer trends. A few of its influencers include: Olivia Palermo, MissCharming, and Chelsihu.
We talk to its founder Ms. Yingying Gu on how the company formed and how ICY is helping support a generation of Chinese fashion designers.
How did ICY get started?
I founded ICY in 2017 mainly because of the ongoing consumption changes in China. I saw how the Millenials and Generation Z have been gaining power with regards to consumption in the fashion industry. They advocate a different consuming philosophy than that of their predecessors, focusing on individualism and how the fashion industry increasingly values individualism. The younger generations emphasize through their consumption that their fashion choices are an extension of their self-expression. They gravitate towards innovative designer products, rather than something more commercial to demonstrate their individualism, and think designer products add to a fuller understanding of an enriched culture. We have seen the rising demand for new fashion products, especially for individual-oriented designer products, alongside with the growing consumption power of young consumers.
Many countries including Japan and the United States have become home to booming market of design products tailored for young customers, but China is still lagging behind. In our market, most designer brands are usually sold at $500 to $1000 on average, which is higher than the price that young people can afford. ICY aims to bridge the gap between the limited supply of affordable fashion design products and urgent demand for them among consumers aged 20 to 35 years old. ICY is dedicated to being the incubator for designers and their brands, cooperating with them to open up markets for young consumers.
Is there anything quite like ICY currently in the world? Do you see this new business model replicated outside of China?
Not exactly the same. ICY is a designer ecology platform that integrates supply chain, sales channel, and brand marketing. The strong production chain for the clothing industry in China, which is unlike other countries, is an important precondition for ICY to be the supply chain empowerment platform. Thanks to the ongoing consumption upgrades in China, more and more designer brands are rapidly rising in the fashion market, presenting numerous golden opportunities for us. Meanwhile the well-developed social platform and KOLs system allows us to quickly establish communication channels between consumers and designer brands.
Undeniably, there are companies that offer one or two facets of production and marketing in foreign countries, but such a platform featuring full-chain production, from production to selling channels to brand, as ICY, is quite rare.
How does ICY determine which designers to partner with like Leaf Xia, Eva Xu, HIUMAN, and Fengyi Tan?
At ICY, we look for designers that are unique and offer a design element that our consumers would want. We like to work with designers that are emerging as they have collections that are innovative. In the mix, we also work with established designers because we know our fans love their collections and their design with ICY provides a price point that is targeted to our customers and different from the designer’s main collection.
How important is social media to the fashion design world? Is fashion more connected in WeChat than in Instagram?
They both are important communication channels connecting customers and designer brands. Influencers on these platforms showcase ICY-manufactured clothing, which helps brands to directly approach the right customers. All the social media and communities are crucial, since they all have their own KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) and followers.
Who are some of your favorite influencers?
Every KOL will produce fashion contents with ICY clothes and spread it on the social network to encourage consumer purchases. ICY had a project named ICYICON to popularize fashion brands among customers through the fashion contents created by fashion bloggers.
Is there a lot of competition among the traditional luxury fashion houses entering the important Chinese market?
Yes. Firstly, customers in China have a wide array of luxury brands to choose from as more fashion brands have been introduced to China and information has become unprecedentedly easy to get; secondly, current consumption behaviors are increasingly diversified in China. Customers not only make their choice on the basis of brand reputation and advertisement, but also find themselves interested in brands with a clear design image that represents their own lifestyle and ideas. This is why more emerging brands are more popular nowadays.
How is the supply chain and quality determined for each brand?
Firstly, ICY has a very strong supplier base, including raw fabric material suppliers and processing factories. We hold a dynamic performance review and evaluation among suppliers and only keep qualified and competitive ones. Secondly, we provide at least three different rounds of samples for the designers to make a final check before mass production. Suppliers work to improve the samples until designers are 100% satisfied with the final one.
Do you see ICY as a supporter of creativity and talent? You could be launching incredible fashion careers, no?
Absolutely. As ICY looks out for emerging designers, we feel that we are supporting brands and labels that might not have resources for marketing and production to be successful in their business. We handle all aspects of production and sourcing for the designers that are part of the ICY platform as well as online marketing and promotion on our channels. We hope for designers that are part of ICY to be successful and that is part of our mission.
When will ICY be expanding to the US and Europe?
Firstly, we hope American or European designers can become involved in our system to facilitate their business entry into China. Besides that, we plan to work together with local e-retailers in America and Europe to offer our products and services to customers there.
Mark Benjamin is the editor of RAIN magazine. Formerly a menswear buyer for a luxury fashion brand, he started RAIN in the Fall of 2016. The magazine has since realized several noteworthy profiles in print and continues the mission in print and online.