“Design in China”​ e03 – An Ko Rau 安高若- Concept Sportswear Store in Shanghai Making Its Mark

This series of articles named “Design in China” provides a snapshot of new DTC Chinese brands. I’ll review emerging brands in China and outside of China. But all these brands are designed and created from China.

What does going Direct-to-consumer (DTC) mean? Selling direct-to-consumer, commonly referred to as DTC or D2C, means you’re selling your products directly to your end customers. Sellers bypass any third-party retailers, wholesalers, or any other type of middlemen to deliver their products. These DTC brands are leveraging mobile and digital channels that are bypassing traditional sales models.DTC brands are usually sold exclusively online or specialize in a specific product category.

Branding over Sales Performance

China consumption has evolved already. Many start-ups from mainland China experienced new way of purchasing clothes but also electronic accessories and food for years. They’ve already generated high volume of online sales and are now developing more sophisiticated and creative product and online ad campaign to elevate their brand. From a strong product positioning they are creating strong brand to retain existing users and attract new consumers. I’ll comment on the one I found interesting and worth sharing with followers here. #ChineseCulturalConfidence

These brands understand why brands are so important? #为什么要做品牌

“The most important thing really, is this notion that the consumer has changed, and really a lot of retailers are way, way, way behind the curve,” said Paula Rosenblum, co-founder of retail advisory firm RSR Research – source CrunchBase

Sportswear and streetwear fashion are having their moment in China. Where big brands are going all out with collaborations and spending top dollar on advertisements, a small brand out of Shanghai is taking a different route. An Ko Rau is a sportswear brand with just few stores in Shanghai and a strong presence on social media. While it uses social media to market the collections, buying takes place in its store and online, offering an engaging community-focused experience.

An Ko Rau was born as a new concept for sportswear, which differed from the performance-oriented outlook of Western brands that currently dominate the Chinese market. The brand’s ideology is connecting sports with nature, not victory. And that reflects in its campaigns and social media posts on platforms like WeChat and RED. The brand reiterates its philosophy with every social media post. The brand’s icon is the Arabic numeral zero, representing the starting point of every activity. And as for the name, An Ko Rau means permanent movement in Esperanto.

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The design team behind the sportswear brand focuses on making the apparel suitable for daily, casual wear, bridging the gap between performance-driven athletic clothes and comfortable casual clothes. As it’s based in the densely populated city of Shanghai, the idea is that a customer of An Ko Rau can wear the same clothes in the city but also outside the city, hiking up a trail or kayaking in a lake. For this reason, they don’t use models but ordinary citizens to model the clothes. This concept of modeling collections on real people is also gaining momentum in the West, where big brands, including Balenciaga, are using non-model models to promote inclusivity and body positivity.

One of An Ko Rau’s Shanghai concept store on the popular Anfu Road was designed by More Architecture. The store is unique in that it looks like a gym locker room meets closet meets a clubhouse changing room. The entire store is one big changing room where customers can easily engage with each other while also interacting with the salespeople. The brand has developed its own community of sports enthusiasts who promote their lines and test products during the development phase.

An Ko Rau is a breath of fresh air in the Chinese sportswear market. For the last few decades, China has been at the center of sportswear production, whether for international brands or local ones exporting wholesale. However, the activewear landscape in China is changing with smaller, consumer-focused brands popping up in Chinese cities that are taking the design reigns. There are similar stories from Europe and North America where smaller brands and stores compete (and, in many cases, do well) with big brands and retailers. The key to success for such niche, small brands has been focusing on the community they serve rather than producing at scale and expanding quickly. An Ko Rau sets an example for Chinese designers and entrepreneurs that going big isn’t mandatory.

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