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Why Chinese New Year is the biggest event of the calender for the fashion industry.

  • By Catherine Clavering
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Why Chinese New Year is the biggest event of the calender for the fashion industry.

For most people in the UK, the entire direct experience of Chinese New Year can be summarised by "I went to China Town in (insert British city here) and saw the celebrations, wow!" and "So which animal is it this year? Monkey? Awesome!", plus occasionally being surprised that it's based on the lunar calender so it's on a different date each year for us.

This picture, from February 14, 1942 in the LA Times, was captioned "The black dragon, right, loses a fight with Gum Lung, the golden dragon, during the New Year's celebration in L.A.'s China City".

One thing you may not realise is that Chinese New Year is now the single most important event in most of the fashion industries collective calenders.  Behind the celebrations you might have seen lies a reality of the largest migration of people across China and countries such as the Phillipines or Thailand, to stay with their families. Millions of people travel from manufacturing districts to towns and villages, often for longer than the official 15 day holiday. It's a huge and deeply significant time of year.

The Star garter dress, other Star items, "Rufflebum" styles and a few other pieces are made by a small family owned factory - in the Phillipines. So if it's not in stock right now we shan't have any for a while!

Away from the cultural, religious and family ties and back in the land of brutal business though, all of these are countries that do enormous amounts of manufacturing for goods eventually sold across the globe. With everyone from indies to luxury brands manufacturing in the East, brands can't plan products, retail or trade events without taking it into account. 

In effect, everyone has to get anything they planned to sell over February and March completed and out of the factories before the mass exodus. As you can imagine, this tends to cause a bit of tension. One company I work with develops and organises the manufacturing of goods in China for an array of major UK and USA brands, and for the week before CNY, they seem to be working 24/7, albeit using very short sentences and with the occasional explosion of expletives.

Back in China, after returning to their families for the holiday, most workers stay away for weeks (officially it's a 15 day holiday), and factories have no idea who will come back and who won't, as many people take the opportunity to renegotiate or change jobs. There are usually more jobs that skilled workers to fill them in China, which means workers can pick and choose and are in a strong position to make demands. For anyone making in Chinese-calender based countries then, goods due in around this time are basically more of a guesstimate than ever, since who can commit to a production date when you don't know when, or even IF, your sewing machinists, packers and other staff will be back?

Even assuming your goods get made, pretty much everything either shuts down completely or is running an extremeley pressured service, so getting the goods out of the country (and it's a very large country with plenty of bureaucracy) and on a plane or a boat can be an exciting challenge. And by that I mean "I'm pretty certain some of the logistics people have pulled all their hair out".

Bringing it back to KMD towers? This year we won the "get stuff made in time" battle with the Grace and Leonie . . . and then lost horribly on the transport. Still, it's been faster than the Year A Volcano Stopped Play, so all things considered, I'm staying calm and hoping everyone on the other side of the world is happy at home!

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