Tuesday 25 September 2012

ZAOZAO: The crowdfunded future of fashion in Asia?

When I was contacted a while back by the people behind a crowdfunding site for Asian designers, ZAOZAO, I was very excited and happy to hear about it.

Having seen the difficulty (especially financial) emerging designers have in getting their collections produced – let alone marketed and sold - the whole idea of crowdfunding seemed like a perfect solution to test the market and get them started.

Co-founder Ling Cai, who resides between Singapore and Hong Kong, decided to start ZAOZAO alongside friend Vicky Wu to help budding designers but also introduce people around the world to something they are clearly passionate about: unique and interesting fashion.

Singapore-born Ling has definitely got the experience to back up her passion for fashion, having interned and freelanced for labels like Gucci, Lanvin, Oscar de la Renta, Chloe, Lancel and more, not just in Asia but in big fashion cities like New York.

For those of you who don't know what crowdfunding is or more importantly how ZAOZAO works. Here's a quick explainer. Crowdfunding is basically when people upload their ideas to a website so that members of the public can all contribute a little bit towards funding it to make a dream become a reality.

With ZAOZAO, the crowdfunding concept is being curated so Ling and Vicky pick the designers and items to be put up on the site, and people can pre-order what they like. Once a certain amount of pre-orders are secured, the designers will then produce their work and send it to whoever funded it.

Out of the 350 designers they had initially talked to in South East Asia, Ling and Vicky carefully selected 40-50 which they felt had the most potential.

The good news is that the ZAOZAO site launches this afternoon and while at the moment they only have a dozen designs, more than 90 designs are ready for pre-order and will introduced slowly.

If you want to know more about ZAOZAO , here’s a small Q&A with Ling so you know what to expect, along with her 5 picks from what’s worth looking for on the site.

Ling Cai of fashion crowdfunding site ZAOZAO
Co-founder of ZAOZAO, Ling Cai.

How did you come up with the idea to launch ZAOZAO and why?

My business partner, Vicky, and I saw an untapped market for creatives in Asia. There are many talented designers who come and go because they don’t have the means to sustain their business.

We want to help emerging designers by eliminating some potential problems such as slow-selling styles and excess inventory. With ZAOZAO, designers only produce their design(s) if they receive all pre-orders within a fixed time frame. Nothing goes to waste.

What are the challenges for the fashion scene here in Asia? 

I think getting the word out about emerging designers is one of the biggest challenges. 

Hong Kong based 'Shoe Artistry'
Some of what to expect from ZAOZAO: two-tone Oxfords from HK-based
Shoe Artistry

HK label Twisted Sisters on ZAOZAO
A dress from HK-based Twisted Sisters

Do you think Asia is ready for crowdfunding, especially when it comes to fashion?

Definitely. Our crowdfunding model allows shoppers to take part in the decision-making process. Shoppers have the power to make a designers' work come to life, which isn't an ordinary experience you can find on other e-tailers. 

In Hong Kong, you can either shop at mass market retailers like H&M, Zara or at high-end retailers like Lane Crawford, Harvey Nichols, Joyce. There isn’t anything good in between that showcases emerging designers' work. On the other hand Soon Lee at Haji Lane in Singapore stocks some great emerging designers, but the assortment is pre-selected for shoppers.

How was the reception from the designers' side and how many did you approach/pick? What was the criteria?

Designers were very receptive. We have talked to more than 350 designers from Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, Philippines, Japan, Indonesia etc. over the last few months and have carefully selected 40-50 to begin with.

Vicky & I visited university campuses, attended fashion shows, trade shows, independent designer fairs and fashion incubator centers to look for emerging designers. Upon reviewing each designer’s resume, cover letter and portfolio, we discussed the potential of each designer to see if they were compatible with ZAOZAO. We then met designers in person to find out about them and to view their work firsthand.

Not only did this process ensure that our designers were passionate and trustworthy, it also ensured that our shoppers would be able to browse and pre-order our site at ease, knowing that the designs available on our website have met – and exceeded – our standards. You will never find anything generic or mass-produced at ZAOZAO.

Asian label Too Can Pass is looking for crowdfunding
A bracelet from This Too Can Pass.
Who is your audience likely to be?

Male & female shoppers around the world who are stylish, fashion foreword and tech savvy.

What are you aiming to achieve from ZAOZAO and where do you see it in 5 years?

We would like to extend our platform to other creative individuals like artists and musicians, and to expand into other regions.

What are your favourite 5 top items, worth pre-ordering waiting for from ZAOZAO?

Floriana Bucket Bag (Artessorio, Hong Kong)
Bags have always been my weakness. I love the perforated design of this bucket bag as it is very unique. It’s lightweight and matches everything. Shoppers who pre-order Artessorio’s bags will get a free customized leather tag! Another incentive to pre-order!
Launch: You will be able to pre-order this when our site goes live this week.

Floriana Bucket Bag from Artessorio, Hong Kong

Suzaku Dress (LION EARL, Singapore)
Lionel gave me a private preview of his upcoming collection last week. I fell in love with all his digital prints especially this beautiful Suzaku dress. Lionel designed a red version especially for ZAOZAO, so ladies if you are looking for something sexy and eye catching, be sure to put this at the top of your list! There are only a few pieces available for pre-order so you have to hurry!
Launch: You will be able to pre-order this when our site goes live this week.

Large & Small Square Ring (Pilz Schmuck, Hong Kong)
I’m a jewelry freak. I cannot resist statement necklaces, chunky gold rings and anything with jewels (think Noir, Venna, Shourouk, Erickson Beamon). This is another item I am dying to have! If anyone wants to get me an early Christmas gift, you have a huge list to pick from right here ;)
Launch: Early November.

Large & Small Square Ring from Pilz Schmuck, Hong Kong

Alisha Necklace (Social Goods, Hong Kong)
The material used to hand make this necklace is very, very soft. It's easy to wear, just throw it over a plain white tee or a boyfriend's shirt. Shoppers will be able to pick their own colors and the price point is wallet-friendly (music to my ears!).
Launch: You will be able to pre-order this when our site goes live this week.

Anti-Freeze Jacket (fan by fan, Taiwan)
I love winter because of all the beautiful coats I get to wear. I cannot wait to pre-order this jacket and pair it with skinny jeans and 4-inch booties this winter!
Launch: Early November.