Seeing China from a Fashionable Perspective
posted by Paul Mucciarone
LIM College's 2013 China Study Tour was an opportunity to experience China from a cultural, historical, and fashionable perspective. This year the trip took place during the first half of June. Several of LIM College's graduate students took part in the journey.
MBA student, Natalie Oshin describes her obersvations about Chinese cultural and business. Furthermore, she explains how studying abroad, even short-term, can be a life-changing experience.
How did you enjoy your experience in China?
While I risk sounding trite, I would not be truthful if I described my experience in China as anything but life-changing. When I embarked on this journey, it had been almost 10 years since I had last traveled overseas. Having missed the opportunity to study abroad as an undergraduate, I was looking forward to immersing myself in a foreign culture—the language, the food, the customs, and most importantly, the people. The two weeks we spent traveling between five cities—Beijing, Xi’an, Hangzhou, Wuzhen, and Shanghai—gave me the opportunity to do just that. The mix of sightseeing, cultural activities, and business visits allowed me to see China from a different perspective than that portrayed in the American
media. I was able to witness firsthand a culture deeply rooted in tradition, but also at the forefront of innovation and change. It is definitely a place I would like to visit again.
Which cultural experience did you most enjoy?
Visiting the Terracotta Warriors Museum in Xi’an, which the Chinese have proudly dubbed “The 8th Wonder of the World,” was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me. Standing in a room the size of two and a half football fields, with over 6,000 life-size terracotta soldiers, was a surreal experience. What was truly impressive is the fact that no two soldiers had the same face! It was also interesting to learn that the museum was built directly on top of the site where the first soldiers were discovered; it is in effect a “live exhibit,” since museum-goes can watch as archaeologists unearth more buried soldiers right before their eyes.
Which experience will add the most value your MBA degree?
The experience I feel will add the most to my MBA degree was our business visit to Alfilo, a brand licensing firm co-founded by LIM graduate, Richard Kisembo. While working at Iconix Brand Group, Richard had the opportunity to brush shoulders with famed Chinese investor, Silas Chao. Chao shared with him an important insight regarding a major difference between the American and Chinese cultures. According to Chao, Chinese people place a very high value on ownership, which he believes is why traditional brand licensing models are not successful in China. With this valuable knowledge, Richard and his business partners founded Alfilo, in an attempt to reinvent the way brand licensing is conducted in China. His team pioneered the “license to joint venture” model, which enables Chinese business partners to earn partial ownership of an American brand over a three year period. Richard’s story was extremely inspiring to me, not only because he was able to become a successful entrepreneur at such a young age, but because it changed my perspective on what it means to be an innovator. Richard taught me that you don’t necessarily need to invent a product to be a visionary; sometimes it’s as simple as retooling an existing idea to make it applicable to a foreign market.
How does the fashion industry in China differ from the US?
Quite a few things about China’s fashion industry stood out to me as being different from that of the US. For one, there is a much larger focus on men’s skincare as a standalone category. While there are a few specialty shops in the US that offer male-specific products, in China every drug store has a large men’s skincare section, and in Sephora, almost as much space is devoted to men’s products as women’s. Another observation is that the overall vibe of women’s fashion is much more feminine than in the US. At the department stores we visited, I felt as if I were lost in a labyrinth of pastels, ruffles, and brocade. On the street, it was very rare that we saw a Chinese woman wearing flats. Women driving mopeds and pedaling traditional bicycles all seemed to be wearing some type of heeled shoe, with platforms being the most popular choice. While the trends in China may be different, the love of fashion seems to transcend culture, as evidenced by a fight I witnessed between two women reaching for the same shirt at a Zara in Shanghai.
What experience did you find the most surprising?
Most surprising to me was the hospitality I experienced from a Chinese family the night we spent in Wuzhen. Kelsey, another student on the trip, and I went out together in search of a place to eat dinner, but we were having trouble communicating with the restaurant staff who did not speak English. A Chinese family that was just sitting down overheard our struggles, and invited us to join them at their table. The 25-year-old daughter spoke English relatively well, and helped us order vegetarian dishes. At the end of the meal, we tried to pay, but the family would not accept our money. After treating us to dinner, they invited us to join them for dessert and drinks at a bar with live music. We had a blast! We were incredibly grateful that night for the kindness of strangers who shared with us a piece of their family vacation.