A Sneak Preview of ROSEN’s Next Venture

May 22, 2018

by Gracia Ventus

“If at first you don’t succeed, walk.”

Whenever I begin a new project at full speed, I tend to fail.

I’m the sort of person who gets overly excited by new ideas. Ideas that are novel in my life, and at the same time not too overly grand, realistically achievable within my lifetime, with as few number of people as possible.


Perhaps that’s why I couldn’t bring Velamen to fruition. At that time, I had little knowledge of synthetics fabric, textile manufacturing, production flow, let alone actually dealing with factories. This was months before ROSEN was started. The project began with the design ideas provided by an ex-business partner who had made a sample of an exoskeleton suit. I had some idea as to how a typical manufacturing process pans out, but not the nuances and the hundred and one ways in which it can go wrong. As someone who has never studied fashion formally, I did not have the network of suppliers and factories whom I have worked with, especially not in a foreign country. I had to start from ground zero in terms of fabric sourcing, textile manufacturing, factory visits and technical clothing production. It was a steep learning curve for someone who deals mostly with natural fabrics and conventional garment construction.


The final prototype of ROSEN's cargo trousers, to be released in June

Despite all the hiccups, the exoskeleton-like suit designed for Velamen was getting close to its final form. My tailor - to the best of his ability, despite never dealing with Cordura and DWR-coated fabrics - had done the third and fourth iteration of the sample. The suit was beautiful in a very rough-edged way, despite not having the refinements of the actual custom-made fabrics we had ordered from a Shanghai textile factory. It was now up to the factory in Guangzhou (for your reference, Shanghai is in the central eastern seaboard of China, 3 hours away on a plane from the southern coast of China where Guangzhou is) to do the final prototype for production, complete with waterproof aqua vislon zippers, heat-taped seams, and custom-made 3L-membrane DWR-coated fabric. Excitement was high, expectation through the roof. After months of research, sourcing, factory visits, testing and sampling, I was sure that we had done our due diligence, and it was going to be smooth sailing from here. After all, it was a matter of replicating the final sample with additional technical qualities that only a factory could provide on an economical scale. A week after sending the order to them, the prototype arrived on my doorstep. The custom-made fabric that we’ve picked out from the textile factory was beautiful. However, everything else was a disaster and nothing in the suit was elegant nor refined. What was even more baffling was that the sizing was severely off by an inch or two, width and length wise. As to how this could have happened, I have no idea, until this very day. The sales rep was unable to provide any reasonable explanation. No-one wanted to own up to the mistake.

I relayed this story to a friend who works for a well-known Chinese label, and she understood my predicament immediately as she had several horror stories of her own. In her case, it was knitwear. The world of knitwear is a different ball game almost entirely. Specifically, the world of luxury knitwear requires a specialised knowhow in running industrial-sized machinery AND hand-finished details. Every round of sample produces a different mistake. Let’s say the weaves were incorrect in the first round. That mistake would be corrected in the second round, but the sleeves would magically grow longer than the first sample. And so several more rounds of sampling would be required.

Due to these series of technical difficulties, Velamen had to take a hiatus with no definite plans of resurrection, especially since it coincided with ROSEN taking a life of its own. What started as a small experiment with beautiful sandwashed silk in a comfortable cut became an unexpected hit that remains to be the best-selling item of the brand. Three quarter of the year has since passed; massive changes have taken place in my business and personal life, all of them for the better. I run ROSEN on my own now. I have learnt many valuable lessons along the way, tested my limits and boundaries in clothing production, while discovering the tools and resources available at my disposal. Due to these boundaries I am forced to be a creative problem-solver. But the single most valuable lesson I have learnt is that simplicity is the best starting point. Don’t get me wrong, I love my complicated garments. I simply need to recognise that I do not have the manpower nor technical knowledge to execute complicated designs without the risk of them looking cheap and shoddy. I have been so used to wearing intricately-constructed clothes that I put on a self-imposed blinkers. What I had failed to realise that some of my best-loved garments were made with conventional craftsmanship method, albeit in beautiful fabrics and cut. I had fallen into the trap of fashion school thesis mentality, where grandeur is valued over functionality, idealism over reality.


ROSEN's sporty version of the Plato suit, not final prototyope

It was thus still a bit of a surprise to me that I have embarked on my own personal brand of Velamen. Now that the original partnership has ended I have no wish to resurrect the brand. However, I am now in the midst of finalising garment samples in synthetics, with final results that are ready to be released in the next few weeks. With the approach I had taken with ROSEN - tactile fabrics, beautiful cuts, practicality over frippery - and equipped with a better knowledge of fabrics, the upcoming diffusion line will concentrate on activewear in synthetics, with minimal approach to aesthetics. Think 80s Issey Miyake, 90s Prada Sport and Jil Sander, with a subtle oriental slant that ROSEN is known for. It still adheres to my original ethos of making fuss-free garments that complement our favourite designers. All the clothes that are produced are tested personally by me as I run around Shanghai carrying out my business, from lugging 10-20kg of work and fabrics, getting in and out of cars, and traveling across different cities in China.


The Story So Far Part Two

April 22, 2018

by Gracia Ventus


Everytime I plan and do the samples for a new collection, self-doubt creeps in.

ROSEN is now a solo project run by yours truly. There are two new capsule collections slated for release in May and June, both vastly different from each other.

Despite my excitement and optimism for the future - especially with these two upcoming collection - the fear that I may be making terrible designs rears its ugly head. What if the designs go so awry that I have to scrape the idea altogether? What if people hate it? The critical inner voices are always mild at first, but as time passes by while waiting for samples to be done, these voices grow louder, so much so that I have to direct more mental energy to quash the discouraging thoughts.



I have a habit of waking up early, usually around six or seven am, to do my reading and writing before I get on with the day's work. Today was especially bad. I woke up at half past three to answer an email from someone dear to me, inducing a surge of oxytocin that carried me way past the act of pressing the 'send' button. My mind had lost the will to sleep, so I laid in bed finishing a Kurosawa movie - Stray Dog - I had fallen asleep to the night prior. Loved the suits, was amused by the awkwardness and sincerity of early cinema, hated the not-so-subtle misogyny. Welcome to Japan. At the back of my mind I kept reconfiguring the next iteration of ROSEN's Earhart jumpsuit for summer.


Half past five. I felt more awake than ever. There was no point in trying to fall back asleep, so I washed up and got dressed. Looking like a PI, I made my way to Family Mart - my favourite convenience store in China and Japan. I thought I might camp here until Starbucks opens its doors at seven. I used to hate the coffee chain until I realised they'd let me modify their drinks any way I want so the coffee tastes less burnt, without resorting to any sugar nor syrup. Plus they open at seven. At Family Mart I picked out my favourite crisps - things I'd normally deny myself six days a week. Today, however, is Sunday. On Sundays all bets are off. I can eat whatever I want, whenever I wish, within reason. I tried being unreasonable once and by the time dinner came, I was so overfed that I spent my meal time dry heaving in the restroom when I was supposed to be enjoying a lovely Peking duck.



I took a place by the corner with my crisps. Noone was here yet on Sunday at sunrise. I had just finished a Salman Rushdie after the aforementioned Kurosawa, so in a bid to discover new authors I started on Jorge Luis Borges's short stories. Not bad so far.

Writers often talk about their writing process, their personal thoughts, their daily lives and habits. But very little is documented by designers. I can only surmise that the visual nature of our profession does not warrant the need to pen our thoughts, or that the non-inclination to write is the reason for their chosen career. Not that I'm calling myself a designer. Rick Owens is a designer. Rei Kawakubo is a designer. I am merely a curator of ideas, putting together elements of garments into pieces that adhere to my vision.


Half past six. I battled a gentle wave of drowsiness that was not unexpected considering I only had three of hours of sleep. And probably due to my body digesting sugar. Time flies a little slower when I'm not running around the fabric market - buying fabrics, relaying orders to my tailors, explaining new ideas to them in a half excited half apprehensive state because a lot of things can be misunderstood even when we're speaking the same language.

The only things keeping me awake now are Borges and scribbling on my notebook, which I will transcribe online when I'm done. I love the act of writing; of putting ink on paper and feeling the tip of the pen scratch smoothly on the surface. Céline Dion is playing in the background, bringing back vague memories from forgotten years. Soon I will be making my way to Starbucks to finish my writing, answer emails and interviews, hoping some coffee will wake me up. Sunday - another work day. The work doesn't stop unless I decide it stops, which usually doesn't happen because I've resigned myself to being a workaholic. At noon I will find myself in the fabric market again to make further adjustments to the new collection. Onwards to the next stage of ROSEN.


All featured ROSEN garments are available on ROSEN-STORE.COM. Photographs are taken by me and Dylan Knight.

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Lessons I’ve Learnt Upon Turning Thirty

April 18, 2018

by Gracia Ventus


1. My cat is a troublesome companion.

Not sure why I put up with him. Oh right he’ll die if I leave him outside.

2. There is a lot of sex, drugs and hip hop in fashion

The first two is nothing new, the third changes according to the era.

Fashion is a world filled with attractive looking people. Combine that with unequal power dynamics, it’s a recipe for consensual casual sex as well as a bubbling cauldron of murky situations ripe for sexual assaults.

Many things in fashion are influenced by music, and music loves to immerse itself in fashion, especially now that a musician’s image is becoming increasingly important in the social media era. Models are now moonlighting as DJs, music producers are best friends with stylists and photographers. Everyone’s snorting white powder in the bathroom.


3. Authenticity is a myth

Everything you see is curated, filtered, veiled. We can do our best to be sincere in our thoughts and actions, but there will never be absolute authenticity. Firstly, we don’t truly know ourselves, partly because we lie about who we are - to ourselves and others - so we could feel better about our shortcomings and ignorance. Secondly, the world is a stage, and we are all players putting our best foot forward so we could be accepted and understood by the people whose validation we seek - parents, friends, lovers, any peer group we want to belong to. We manipulate ourselves in order to manipulate other people’s perceptions of us. Whether it’s done deliberately or unconsciously is not relevant. We are all doing it, one way or another. It is simply human nature to want to present a good façade despite our shortcomings, because a sense of belonging and acceptance is the panacea to loneliness.

In the words of Michel du Montaigne, “kings and philosophers shit, and so do ladies.”
No matter how rich, beautiful, or famous someone gets, or how high up the pedestal social media crowds place them, we are all subject to the madness of our brains and the limitations of our physical condition. We mustn’t be fooled by these superficial signifiers, because underneath all of those lurk the inner demons that go by the names of insecurity, anxiety, depression, amongst many others. Our bodies break down and we fall ill despite our best efforts. We are also verging towards death everyday.

It would be thus rather wise to remember that nothing we see on the internet is ever all that great.

4. We are all children on the inside

No matter how old we get, there is an inner child lurking underneath. No matter how mature we grow, the moment we find someone we can be vulnerable with, there will be instances in which we sulk, cry, throw a temper tantrum, and be a difficult person to get along with. To the recipient of such child-like behaviour, this may seem like a nuisance, but we should find comfort in knowing that there is someone who sees us as a secure source of comfort; someone whom they can truly be themselves with - exposing their vulnerabilities and insecurities that stemmed from childhood trauma. And I take solace in knowing that the times I falter as an adult and revert to my inner child, I will not be abandoned by the person whom I’ve revealed my vulnerabilities to. What separates maturity from pure childishness is how both parties deal with the situation when it arises.


5. Most people are too tired or too stupid to develop the capacity for critical thinking

And we are ill-equipped to navigate through life because we don’t possess the scientific literacy nor philosophical intelligence, or at least enough to have the wisdom and knowledge to make important decisions in life. We struggle everyday to make ends meet, to juggle responsibilities, to pursue our dreams, not to mention dealing with debilitating modern illnesses such as depression and anxiety. All of these leave us with little to no energy to read, write and think. Hell I know people who don’t even like to read. Like mice in a maze, it is instinctual to take the easy way out, thus we find ourselves opting for activities that numb our mental struggles and dumb us down. Instagram, Wechat, Facebook have thus become the go-to options for escapism. Maybe Plato was right. This is why democracy is not living up to our expectations. Plato feared that our freedom will be the downfall of society because we will strive to appease our desires (for wealth and fame especially) rather than uphold morality. He thought that a just and functional society is only possible when governed by a select few who only strive for wisdom plus a set of other virtues that he had defined. The society he envisaged also doesn’t have a monetary system. Clearly those ideals would never be achievable for the time being, since we are deeply entrenched in the capitalist system. It is perhaps the main goal of capitalism to create ignorant masses so they can continue to consume and not think for themselves. When one does not possess the capacity to develop critical thinking, one is not able to make wise decisions for oneself and the greater good. We would be more prone to listen to our biases, rumours and preconceptions.

6. Which brings us to the fact that we’re not as open-minded as we think.

Given an evidence that contradicts what we believe, we buckle down further on our opinions. I chalk it up partly to the backfire effect, and partly to our superiority bias. The former is a type of confirmation bias in which, when presented with evidence that contradicts our beliefs, we do mental acrobats to circumvent that and buckle down on our existing position, letting our emotions take over instead of evaluating the new information critically. The latter is the belief that we are smarter than average, on the whole or on a particular subject. Combining both, we think the the person who challenges us is stupider, hence incapable of making intelligent opinions for us to even reconsider. That, or we think we are someone with above-average intelligence who has valid and valuable opinions, so a person who doesn’t share the same opinion as ours is probably not as smart as us, hence not to be given serious consideration.

This applies to both the liberal left and conservative right.

7. Consumers seek self-esteem through the material things they consume

Be it clothes, music, food. You name it, someone’s going to defend the hell out of it as soon as a criticism is thrown at a subject matter they have emotionally invested themselves in. It’s one thing to defend with reason, it’s another to feel butthurt and take criticisms as a personal attack. This is why we have football hooligans and cliquey fashion communities. Underneath the seemingly innocent consumerist façade lies catty fashion sub-groups. I remember once writing a scathing opinion about streetwear which was reposted onto Reddit. I do believe the word ‘bitch’ was thrown about a few times in the thread, but none dared to tell me directly.

8. The path to a fulfilling life begins from reading, and reading well.

“There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.” - Socrates.

Regardless whether Socrates really exist, I am biased against people who don’t read. I’m not saying that the habit of reading, or lack thereof, makes someone good or evil. As I’ve said previously, the act of reading should be done in the pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge is important to hone our critical-thinking skills and make the most rational choices for ourselves and our society. Humans are often governed by our irrational emotions. To have the capacity for love, kindness, anger and melancholy is a beautiful aspect of our sentience. But there are many times when emotions have to take a backseat, and let logic and rationality lead us in our decision-making process. We cannot vote for the future of our nations and children when we cannot overcome our tribal tendencies, fears and insecurities.

Even if we are not reading for a noble cause, we read to learn from our predecessors; hear their thoughts; absorb their wisdom; avoid the mistakes they’ve made. Personally I have used reading as a coping mechanism during hard times. In the midst of melancholic solitude I take refuge in knowing that my experiences have been shared by brilliant minds. The ghosts of history speak through time to console me when confronted with the sad realities of our existence.


9. Everyone has their own battlefield.

Life is hard. Some of us struggle to eke out a living. Some of us struggle to love and be loved. We will always be plagued by insecurities. We struggle to reconcile our disdain for capitalism and joy in consumerism - I love clothes and relish the rush of completing a checkout process, despite knowing full well that the fashion industry is exploitative; I still eat meat despite my inability to trace how the chicken was raised before it arrived on my plate.

We will never know the full extent of every individual’s hardships, and how these hardships have shaped them. A person who snapped at us when we accidentally knocked into them was probably dealing with his broken dreams. Some guy who bumped into us and didn’t apologise probably just found out his wife was cheating on him. All we can do is be kind, forgive and forget, because we hope that other people would do the same with our transgressions.

10. “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” - Immanuel Kant

Humanity is inherently flawed; we know very little about our reality. What we know we don’t know, amounts to much less than what we don’t know we don’t know. We are ignorant, foolish animals with eyes that aren’t designed to perceive our universe on a microscopic and cosmological scale, prone to make unwise decisions because we are ruled by our emotions. It’s a miracle that every generation manages to progress further than the last.

And so with this knowledge in mind, I step forward into another year of my life. Thank you for reading, as always. All photographs were taken by @xeoniq.


The Story So Far

March 31, 2018

by Gracia Ventus

Issey Miyake Techwear
Photography: @xeoniq

Another flight, another essay. Sitting on the plane seems to be the only chance I get these days to pen down my thoughts. The plane was taking me down under, this time for a vacation that I had not had since September, especially not one that lasted for more than four days. I had to make up for the lack of breathing space on account of working through Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year. As a result, it was taking a toll on my mental capacity - not that it was in its best shape to begin with. I could feel myself turning into a multi-tasking robot who was going through a memory dysfunction and losing information every few hours.


It had been a hectic week once our tailors have come back from their Chinese New Year holiday. ROSEN went into full gear to produce samples for our next Spring/Summer 2018 collection. With barely enough time to spare, we took our newly minted samples to Suzhou, a city known for its historical gardens and canals. We invited a fellow fashion enthusiast - Dylan Knight - all the way from Beijing to be our photographer and model, having only known of his works from the photographs he had put up on Instagram. I decided on the city of Suzhou as our meeting point, which would be the backdrop for our Spring collection. It’s an ancient city that boasts spacious gardens, historical water canals and the rare eclectic Chinese neighbourhoods which haven’t been torn down to make way for new pseudo-ancient suburbs. As much as I love the modernity of Shanghai and the architectural wonders of Beijing, I have a personal preference for the historical and natural side of the East. Whether in China or Japan, I would gravitate towards forests and old architecture that bear signs of age and patina.


Our AirBnB was situated squarely within the ancient part of the city, in an old neighbourhood mostly inhabited by older folks who were very much enamoured by the presence of Dylan and Daniel. It was also full of short-legged dogs that these residents are keeping as pets. Over the course of a few days, we shot our editorials in this neighbourhood, as well as in the famed Humble Administrator’s Garden - which is actually not all that humble considering the 52,000 square meters of land it covers, and the myriads of lavish treasures housed in the mini pagodas, pavilions and halls. It was humble in its purpose - as the grounds for a retired government official to do some gardening and contemplate on life. Six hundred years later it became one of the most famous garden in the Middle Kingdom.


Photography: Dylan Knight

In all my years of doing this fashion business, I have always been the photographer as well as creative and art director. It was thus a pleasure to work with Dylan who brought his own perspective into our editorial. I am usually averse to working with new people because of my stubborn personality and my reluctance in letting go of control to someone else. Fortunately Dylan was easy to work with, and it helped that we both share similar visions. The end result is that, despite going through such a hectic week, I was very happy with the quality of images that we produced, so much so that the stress and time pressure we faced was worth the while.




Two nights after we got back from Suzhou, I hopped on the plane and made my way to the Southern Hemisphere for a new adventure.

ROSEN's new Spring 2018 collection is now available on ROSEN-STORE.COM

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Mao’s Disappointment – A Look into China’s Materialism

March 11, 2018

by Gracia Ventus


13th February 2018

The time is two in the morning. I am sitting on the plane as I am typing this, unable to fall asleep possibly due to the iced coffee I had just some hours ago. The scenery outside of my window is surreal. Dim specks of lights peppered the horizon. I cannot tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. I am not sure whether I am looking at passing ships, or the sight of a hundred galaxies, both so rarely seen in my day to day life.

The screen shows that we are passing over Ho Chi Minh City. I’m ever closer to the place I spent fifteen years in. A city I like but have never been in love with. Cold and sterile, it’s like marrying a boring dentist. That’s the answer I give people whenever they ask me what Singapore is like.

I return to editing these photos. The boy next to me is wide awake, curious as to what I am doing. “Big sister,” he quips all of a sudden, “are you studying photography or fashion design?”

“Both.” I responded in surprise. “I design clothes but I also shoot them myself.” He is accompanied by his older sister, who reminds me of me in the way I took care of my own younger brother - with tough love to whip him into shape.

Being back in Singapore presented an interesting contrast against China. Most of the island nation-state have been developed; there is very little room for further creation and construction, unless destruction is involved. In contrast, China is still building itself, though at a much slower pace than when it first opened its doors to foreign investors in 1978 with the dawn of Deng Xiao Peng’s Open Door Policy. Within a span of four decades, over 600 million people (the magic number often thrown about in statistical reports) were lifted out of poverty - that’s twice the size of United States. The average Chinese person is more than twice as well off now as they were twelve years ago.


I live in one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Shanghai, once upon a time built and run by the French. Despite its antiquity and the local municipality’s quest for preservation of historical sites, anything that wasn’t built between the 18th and 20th Centuries gets torn down every decade. Those that escape destruction get gutted out every few years or so whenever the lease changes hands. Change happens as quickly as the 300km/h high-speed rail that moves this nation.


Growth and prosperity are almost always good for the welfare of a nation. The idea of a poor farmer now able to feed his family and send his children off to school warms our cold, distant hearts. That young women from poor villages can go to universities and find jobs that pay a living wage make our feminist souls flutter with pride. But when the growth of prosperity far surpasses the development of sociocultural dimensions of a country, a different set of cultural phenomena bubbles up to the surface.

A little over a year ago as I was searching for an apartment, I had seen my fair share of living conditions and attitudes that - despite being in an expensive city - are barely different from the working classes of Jakarta. Mountains of belongings piled up in a mess in the doorway; Toys are strewn all over the floor (do children really need that many things?); Cumbersome redwood furniture are a common sight for living rooms that are disproportionately too small.

Not only that. Just because a condominium looks super fancy from the outside, it does not imply that the interior is equally well-built. Whether in Shanghai, Nanjing or Suzhou, real estate developers erect shiny structures that completely neglect the interior. Lobbies are left to rot and deteriorate, common spaces are badly managed. The next best option for a compound that is well-managed requires a jump in social mobility, from being a typical middle class to earning the salaries of the upper echelons. And by today’s standards in China, that’s a massive jump. To most real estate developers, the living experiences of the inhabitants do not matter as much as the sales of the properties. What’s important is selling a gold-plated façade.

It is from these observations I have made over my short years living in China that became my starting point into researching how the consumption practices of the urban class have developed.

Bolstering Materialism and Conspicuous Consumption

“Of course, the Chinese have always used material display as a surrogate indicator of worth. But since the 1990s, things have spun out of control. The quest for prosperity, unattainable chimera for the vast majority of penny-pinched mainlanders, has turned into a rat race. Apartments, now a prerequisite for marriage, are so stratospherically expensive they require multi-generational pooling of resources.“

When I first moved to Shanghai, I was taking private lessons to refresh my Mandarin. My teacher was a Shanghainese lady in her late thirties and single. By China’s standards she would be considered one of the leftover women - so am I - being over twenty five and unmarried. She spoke of how parents of young Chinese men would give major financial assistance to their sons so they could buy a home in order to attain a wife. We also discussed on the topic of matchmaking services. Men and women are ranked according to their looks, financial wealth and educational background. Gender norms come into play as typically men would accept women of the same or lower rank than them, and women would not consider men who are of lower rank. The higher the ranks attained, the higher the fees on both parties. Though these may be anecdotal hearsay, it is corroborated by the information being advertised on the real life Tinder market in Shanghai. Parents and grandparents put up umbrella ‘stands’ to advertise their unmarried children and grandchildren. The most common information that is offered is age, height, education and work background. Photos are only available upon request.

In China, the quest to have a relatively satisfactory life is full of challenges. Like a typical collectivist society, keeping up with the Ah Lings and Ah Mings is more important than carving one’s personal definition of success. And one’s self-worth is dependent on financial status and building a family. The former to impress society, the latter to appease one’s family. For the urban men of China, without a home under one’s name, one cannot find a wife. Without a wife, one cannot start a family. Without a family, one cannot appease one’s parents and relatives. Women on the other hand are pressured to marry by early twenties. If they are from a poorer background, they strive to find a husband that earns enough to guarantee a financial security. The growing number of highly-educated women who are financially independent may be able to stave off the parental pressure for a few more years, but gender norms still apply so they too would search for a husband who is of the same social status or higher. And in China it equates to wealth and upbringing.

A Knee-Jerk Reaction

The pace of economic change is so massive that the attitudes have not adjusted as quickly as the economies. Prosperity have come so rapidly that they behave with the hunger of societies that are poor even though they have already become rich. Public welfare system has not adjusted to reflect the needs of the current crop of workforce, thus many older people are still working extremely hard, and do not take the future for granted. They have less faith in the future as they have experienced the Great Leap (back)wards, the tumultuous economic reforms that left a death toll of 30-50 million people. Because of this historical trauma, a common trait of hoarding can be observed amongst the older generations. One never knows when one could get a particular knick-knack from overseas again, or when the need for a plate bearing one’s portrait taken on a touristy spot comes up.

It has been pointed out that the Chinese people’s single-minded focus on financial security can be traced back to the majority of the population’s experiences with poverty and the country's lack of social welfare system in place. From this vantage point, becoming materialistic or desiring wealth may seem like a rational after-effect. But there is also a traditional side to it, and that is the Chinese concept of face. One's ability to have 'face' in an ordinary Chinese community is dependent on the brands that one can afford.

It is actually the younger generations of working Chinese, those who didn’t live through the poverty that their parents and grandparents did, who are living beyond their means. Frugality is a traditional Chinese trait that is becoming obsolete because the younger generation has grown up in prosperity, hence not seeing the long-term need to save for rainy days. At the same time, they are pressured by their parents and society to be successful and acquire wealth. One cannot also discount the huge influence that media has on consumer attitudes.

Milking Money from The Ignorant Masses

Tribe leaders always exist any strata, but their influence is more strongly felt in collectivist societies. Within China, that power shifted from the emperor, to the communist and community leaders, to the parents, and now to online influencers, known-locally as key opinion leaders.

Take for example the beauty industry in China. Young women in their early 20s are targeted by companies to care about ageing skin so they would spend beyond what their monthly salaries can afford them. From serums to creams, oils and pills, magic pseudo-science slogans are thrown about so that ignorant women would consume these products, further perpetuating the myths of how our skin actually works and the extent to which chemicals would affect our face. Chinese consumers may have wisened up to fake eggs, fake milk and fake rice, but they are still falling for fake science. Nefarious international companies (here’s looking at you L’oreal) target Chinese women by using online influencers as advertising vehicles, knowing that local regulations do not require disclosure of paid ads. Chinese women have greater faith in online personalities whom they have emotional investments in. Combine that with the power of word of mouth marketing from their peer groups who are more than likely to be following the same group of online personalities, companies found the perfect recipe to sell the solution to women’s insecurities and image issues in the form of overpriced chemicals.

It’s a common sight to see Weibo beauty queens advertising an identical product within the same period, resulting in a massive sell-out, from China to Hong Kong, from Taiwan to Seoul. Young Chinese consumers do not hesitate to buy from overseas proxies or search high and low for the advertised product while traveling. Young college women have resorted to borrowing money by using their nudes as collaterals, with invariably disastrous consequences. While some borrowed for legitimate reasons such as college expenses and abortions, many are suspected to be funding their make-up addictions. The thirst is very real.

Keeping Up with The Ah Mings and Ah Lings

IPSOS poll in 2013 showed that 71% of Mainland Chinese thought that success is gauged by the things that one owns, while the global average lies at a meagre 34%. It is no surprise then that the face-conscious Chinese are not shy when it comes to material pursuits; amassing objects and status symbols that denote that they have arrived at the land of prosperity and wealth.

Bain and McKinsey consumer reports eagerly stated that Chinese consumers are getting more picky in their consumption, weaning off Louis Vuitton and leaning more into discreet luxury products. That, and wanting to spend more on experiences and bringing happiness to their families and friends. What they fail to explicitly mention is that both are still a form of status-driven consumption. The super rich are trading their run-of-the-mill Mercedes for a Maybach, their BAPE for Rick Owens. And much like their Western counterparts, the Chinese are more eager to document their travels than to experience the experience. Any tourist spots within China are full of domestic tourists with their arms outstretched holding on to their larger than life phone screens. Some intellects say that technology shapes us. It might not be too farfetched to say that technology will teach babies how to take selfies first before they can walk. For the urbanites, aesthetically-pleasing cafes are full of young women taking endless selfies while letting their expensive coffees get cold. Some months ago, I accidentally ended up in a newly-opened cafe that plans to change its theme every month. The goal: to entice the youths to drop by for selfie sessions frequently. It was owned by a Shanghainese middle-aged lady who owned a football team. She was wearing a pair of Vetements socks and Gucci shoes.

The quest to keep up with the Ah Mings and Ah Lings is very real and very draining. Young people are constantly driven to make money to have a sense of belonging in the tribe they wish to be seen in. The culture of materialism creates a society that is too ignorant and/or too tired to do a critical examination of one's behaviour. The weary masses then look down on their phones to open a notification sent by Taobao, reminding them that they are missing out on a pair of ‘super hot’ shoes. And so the cycle continues.


This behaviour is no different from the self-absorbed consumption practices of industrialised Western nations. China is merely following the same trajectory of countries who had walked down the path of economic development within the last century. The Chinese seek out self-worth through wealth and possessions. Western individualised cultures once went through that phase. Now they seek out self-worth through personal achievements and number of followers on social media, the latter which involves its own set of problematic consumption patterns.

Rampant consumption is a problem regardless of how it manifests in different cultures, because they way we consume is still environmentally unsustainable. It also preys on the worst of humanity’s shortcomings, targeting our insecurities and vulnerabilities. The result is a whirlpool of social ills that permeate individuals and society on the whole. As I am typing this, the gap between rich and poor are widening at an alarming rate within China.

The problem of conspicuous consumption is far more obvious in the land of the Middle Kingdom because of the ‘face’ culture that demands high visibility of one’s wealth. Collectivism in China can potentially be used for the greater good, keeping each others’ greed in check while making sure the country prospers together. But in this materialist country, it is now being used as a basis of comparison to attain one’s sense of achievement. The current working generation of the country has to prove to their neighbours, families and friends that they have arrived - preferably in a Ferrari 599.

Wearing: Balenciaga shearling coat; ROSEN Brontë shirt and Ingvar trousers; Margiela tank boots

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So You’re Thinking of Buying The Triple S

January 11, 2018

by Gracia Ventus

Issey Miyake Beetle Coat

When it comes to sneakers, I prefer to be the benchwarmer than a key player. Watching the game from the sidelines allows me to observe the industry without getting too entrenched in the consumption habits. Clunky lego sculpture assembled by a kindergartener is usually my go to choice for them. My relatively modest collection comprises mostly of Adidas tubulars - for exercising - and various collaborations with Raf Simons and Y-3. However I do find the game itself quite interesting, from a consumerism and capitalism perspective.

The sneakers industry is a behemoth. A sought after pair can command multiple times of what they retailed for in the second hand markets. The most anticipated ones are now only available for purchase by winning raffle tickets. Some menswear stores have set up safeguards to prevent bots from swiping their entire inventory within seconds of a sneaker release. Every year, the creme of the crop are ranked by sneakers news outlets Complex, Footwear News, Hypebeast and HighSnobiety. They have panels, they have discussions, they argue back and forth, but it is not science. It will never be science, because noone can quantify all the variables that they have taken into consideration. Footwear News, HiSnob and Hypebeast look at various factors such as rate of engagement on social media, polls since the beginning of the year (may I remind you that memories should never be trusted completely), and extent of influence across industries (I assume that means how many copycats were spawned). Complex simply asked a few selected people, no numbers no nothing. Basically everything comes down to hype.

Issey Miyake Beetle Coat
Wearing: Issey Miyake iridescent coat (shorter version available here), Issey Miyake Pleats Please trousers, Raf Simons x Adidas sneakers

What goes on offline in my neck of the woods is a completely different story. Here in the trendy city of Shanghai (as opposed to the more sartorially-informed city of Beijing), the most visible sneakers on the streets today are Nike's VaporMax, and Balenciaga's Triple S, that is, if I'm not counting the leftover carnage that is the Yeezys. Perhaps their high visibility could be attributed to their distinctive designs. However what's more noteworthy is that the Triple S cost four times as much as the VaporMax, yet they're both equally ubiquitous. Even my hairdresser wears the Triple S.

Balenciaga Triple S
Fig. 1, Girl on Shanghai subway in Balenciaga Triple S, authenticity unknown, photo taken by me

When the Triple S was first featured on the runway, I fell head over heels in love. I waited for its release like a squirrel eager for a ripening chestnut. As the scheduled launch was slated for autumn, there was a gap of several months. In between, a stylist friend of mine living in Shanghai showed me a Taobao listing for the much-awaited sneakers. At a cost of under US$100, I suspected it would only turn out to be a terrible replica. After all these factories only had images for references, unless they had an insider leak that is. I did not think it will have much of an impact considering the Triple S were widely available months before the shoes were even released. I had this idea that the shoes would be far too difficult to knock off completely, especially when compared to the Yeezys.

Well I was wrong.

Some weeks after the release of the shoes, I decided to check up on the Taobao situation, feeling rather smug with my prediction.

Fig. 2, The endless offerings of the Triple S on Taobao


Fig. 3, Sellers doing comparisons to showcase the quality of their reproductions

There are now hundreds of Triple S on Taobao, each outdoing another on who makes the most authentic-looking pairs. At an average cost of 300-800 yuan(US$50-$125), they are a lot more accessible than the real deal, especially considering that the real ones were sold out during pre-orders in February. The result is that I am seeing them almost every other day, on both men and women. It only goes to show that fashion consumption has become a daily sport for young Chinese consumers. Taobao has the best shopping algorithm in pushing what consumers might want - and end up purchasing - even if many of them weren't aware of the existence of the Triple S to begin with, nor of Balenciaga. While it has a terrible interface on the desktop, its mobile version is extremely addictive and almost idiot-proof. Don't speak Chinese? It allows searches with the use of image reversal, photos or bar codes. The e-commerce logistics is so efficient that anyone who lives in major cities can receive their parcel the next day. Most offer free shipping, and return shipping can be as low as $2. As a result, I am seeing reviews of people who claimed to have tried and tested several pairs from different retailers with the hopes of finding the most authentic-looking pair. Due to the discerning tastes of these consumers, many manufactures are pushed to be even more innovative with their reproductions in order to garner the most sales, so much so that I can no longer differentiate what was real or fake. It is late-stage capitalism at its finest.

Fig. 4, Don't let the spelling fool you. Brand names are often misspelled in photos for legal purposes. The products themselves bear the original logos

Fig. 5, Reviews from buyers

As of 2016, China has surpassed all the other markets in footwear consumption, over 3 billions pairs in total, while the US and India trailed far behind with over 2 billion pairs. The former will only increase over the years as young urban Chinese consumers are growing more affluent and their thirst is unrelenting. Considering that sneakers are de rigueur amongst the youths from all social classes, it would be a folly to come up with a yearly list of 'Top Ten' sneakers without taking into account the purchasing power and behaviour of the Chinese market. I would suggest that HiSnob and Complex etc send a team into China with clipboards to do primary research on the streets, while surfing Taobao during their breaks.

In the meantime, I will leave you with this.

Fig. 6, These are so rare I saw them first before Balenciaga even thought about them

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