LG: Would you say the atmosphere is very voluntary-based?
LL: Absolutely, yes.
LG: That’s interesting. I am from Paris, but I am currently living in London, and I can definitely tell a difference in attitude. In Paris, you have to prove your value and have a very substantial résumé. In London, people tend to be more willing to be part of an emerging, creative environment. There is this trust. You don’t have to prove yourself in the same way.
LL: Paris has a lot of luxury brands, the market is more sophisticated, I guess.
“In China, you wouldn’t find boutique stores pre-2015. Nowadays, that completely changed and the work of designers is sold everywhere. ” – Liushu Lei
LG: Probably. The result is that it’s harder to build a team than it would be in Shanghai, I suppose?
LL: Shanghai is a new market. The designer business started like five or six years ago in China. Before, there were fashion brands, but not designer brands. Meaning a brand established by a designer and not some house belonging to a conglomerate and hiring designers. Plus, we also had all the luxury houses from Europe like Louis Vuitton or Chanel. It all started in 2015 with Shanghai Fashion Week, when a lot of people here came back from the UK. In China, you wouldn’t find boutique stores pre-2015. Nowadays, that completely changed and the work of designers is sold everywhere. Before 2015, if you wanted to buy something from Simone Rocha or Comme des Garçons, you could only buy that at I.T, a big retail company in Hong Kong. Now, you have so many stores where you can shop for brands like that.
LG: Why do you think this evolved in such a way?
LL: I think a while back, there was not much interest or confidence in Chinese designers or brands. But now, they have become more professional, I’d say.
LG: We seem to be entering this metaverse market. Speaking of, are you stocked in any physical stores?
LL: Yes, of course. I have been working with Dover Street Market since the first season. We are also at SSENSE, Browns, and Nordstrom.
LG: What would be your advice to someone entering the business?
LL: I would say that you should take it as a serious business. Don’t play around.
LG: Did someone explain all this to you?
LL: We figured it out by ourselves along the way.
LG: Any fatal mistakes?
LL: Oh yes. We forgot to register the name of our brand for bags, and there was someone else using it. It takes like six months to get it back.
“The issue of name registration is really serious. Imagine you’re investing a lot of work and starting to become famous, and then, two years later, you realise you can’t use your name.” – Liushu Lei
LG: What happened? Someone found out that you didn’t register it and took it?
LL: Literally what happened, yes. We wanted to register the name for that accessory category, and suddenly we find out it’s not possible. The name apparently belonged to another company, so we had to fight for it. Obviously, someone did this on purpose. But, us being a fashion brand, it is very easy to prove who we are and what we do. I actually have a friend with a similar experience. His brand is already quite known, but his name is rather common, so it’s almost inevitable that someone else has it too. So, it will never be fully his, probably. That issue is really serious. Imagine you’re investing a lot of work and starting to become famous, and then, two years later, you realise you can’t use your name – horrible.
LG: Did you have any mentors or someone helping you along the way?
LL: Yes, I’d say my stylist. She’s a girl from China who worked as the fashion director of Wallpaper China. From 2010 to 2013, I was her styling assistant. She’d always push me, telling me to do campaigns and shows. I worked very closely with her, and she’d share her views with me. She was always very straightforward, we’d even argue at times. What she taught me is that it’s important to build a brand image from the very beginning. Loads of designers miss out on that. Of course, design is always the top priority, but there is so much more to a brand. You have to continuously do shows, shoot campaigns or use a certain technique and language.
LG: What would you say is your language?
LL: I’d say Gingham shoes, bows, and black socks. Some designers want to be everything, you know? If you want to be a brand, you need to make choices, so people recognise you.
LG: I understand. It’s like a significant mark or symbol. How did you and your partner start this brand together?
LL: We’ve known each other since high school, and then we studied at the same university, where we ended up being in the same course. After that, we decided to move to London to do the MA at London College of Fashion. We were roommates and classmates for a very long time. I knew that if I wanted to do this, I’d do it with her.
LG: I know that both of you had started working in the industry before setting up your brand. Simone Rocha and Gareth Pugh, right? How did you decide to make this shift happen?
LL: It was because we did not have a visa to stay in London. I actually wanted to work for a bit in the industry.
“Presenting a graduate collection as a student is very different from creating a collection for your brand. ” – Liushu Lei
LG: Why did you want to work for a company and not do your own thing immediately?
LL: When you start your own brand, you need a lot of resources. And at the time, I did not have that. Having some experience makes things run more smoothly.
LG: What would you have needed, for example?
LL: Production, and also how to make a collection. Presenting a graduate collection as a student is very different from creating a collection for your brand. There, you need a certain amount of coats, skirts, and other pieces. You have to do merchandising, which they do not teach you about in school. I had to figure this out on my own, and I am lucky I noticed that because I can imagine that many young designers would struggle.