The Seattle Women Behind the U.S. Expansion of Chinese Fashion Brand JNBY 衣如人生:中国著名时装品牌JNBY在美国成功发展背后的中国女人

母女二人组在美国传播中国时尚和文化 Mother and daughter duo bring Chinese fashion and culture to the U.S.
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Jasmine和Xiao母女二人组通过JNBY将中国时尚和文化传播到美国。图为母女在其Bravern店

JNBY(江南布衣)在中国是个耳熟能详的服装设计品牌, 它的中文名字充满了诗情画意、岁月静好,而英文名字全称Just Naturally Be Yourself则极好的诠释了 “自然、自我” 的品牌理念。1994年创业以来,集团已9个品牌,在全球拥有2000多家专卖店和集合店美国德国日本以色列俄罗斯等地颇受欢迎201510月,JNBY在西雅图的Pacific Place购物中心迎来了她在美国的第一家授权专卖店的诞生; 2017JNBY旧金山店开业;20189月, JNBY美国第三家店在BellevueBravern购物中心亮相。平均每年开一店的速度,而且店铺都是在黄金地段的高档购物中心,这不得不让人惊叹,而促使这一切发生的是位来自中国上海的 小”女子Jasmine Zheng2017年,她的女儿Xiao Li 在大学毕业后也加入了JNBY美国团队,负责市场及网店经营, 母女二人组自此携手打造JNBY的美国天下。

JNBY初体验:缘起 

Jasmine看起来是典型的娇小南方女子,但中文名字却很帅气:睿宇;工科出生的她对中国传统文化和艺术又深深喜爱。或许就是这样的矛盾统一体成就就了外表柔弱,内心坚强的她,使JNBY在美国生根发芽成为可能。 Jasmine初到西雅图是2008年,同许多中国父母一样,移民是因为女儿的教育,而选择了西雅图则是被这座美丽城市的清新自然和宜居性所吸引。安顿下来后Jasmine发现美国大部分价格合适的服装设计却偏单调,设计精良的服装,价位又偏高。而在西雅图这个以休闲随性而著称的城市,“时尚” 这个词对某些人来说或许是个“冤亲词”, 许多人对对户外活动的喜爱反映在日常着装上,如抓绒或戈尔特斯为面料的服装。Jasmine就萌生了将时尚于自热主义结合在一起的想法。 

2014年春天,Jasmine被邀请参加JNBY在杭州灵隐寺边一个村落式酒店举办的时装发布会,而这次体验则结下了她和JNBY的不解之缘。这个以“隐”为主题的发布会,将中国传统文化中的乐、画、瓷等完美的结合到服装展示中,在暗灯竹影中,模特们穿着很有造型感的服装沿着村落的一条崎岖小路缓缓走来,Jasmine认为我们每个人不同程度上都是孤独的,所以“隐“这个主题可以让所有人都共鸣。JNBY的既融合了现代感又向中国传统文化致敬的独特设计理念深深的触动了Jasmine, 也让她下定决心通过JNBY将中华文化和时尚传播到美国,让大家看到中国不仅仅因中国制造而著名,中国设计也很棒 

开店:天时地利人和 

最初,只是想做JNBY的批发代理,但是在寻求与当地店主合作的过程中发现理念很难统一,这促使她决定自己开个店,尝试在美国做零售。一番筹备后, 她怀着兴奋和忐忑的心情走进了位于西雅图市中心的Pacific Place购物中心租赁办公室,可令人失望的是当时并没有店铺出租。或许老天也眷顾Jasmine的坚持和热情,没多久Pacific Place突然联系她,告知有一间店铺因前租户提前解约,她可以承租了!于是JNBY就成了进驻Pacific Place的第一家中国设计、中国制造的品牌,并由有一个从没有过开店经验的人来经营。

将一个不为大众所知的外国品牌推广出去并不是件易事,尤其当时Jasmine的英语水平还不是很过关。可她也是幸运的,有亲朋和当地对华经贸、文化组织的支持,时任华盛顿中国关系理事会会长的Kristi Heim女士,邀请她在店铺开张前到理事会为会员们讲述她的创业历程,回想起来,Jasmine笑着说,没想到自己那蹩脚的英语也能给美国人做报告,而凭的仅是一鼓勇气。通过这次报告会,她不仅遇到了能帮助她解读完全不同的法律规章的专业人士,而且扩大了交际圈,后来好多人成为了好朋友Jasmine说这人生地不熟的新移民来说都是无价之宝。 

 顾客是朋友、是灵感 

JasmineXiao母女两个都是文静的南方女子,可一谈起JNBY美国店的理念和经营却是侃侃而谈,满眼的兴奋、喜爱和自豪。 “衣服是日常到精神世界的连接“,Jasmine说。而她们的一个主要的经营宗旨就是以衣服为载体,通过同客人的交流互动,唤醒内在支持,培养客人的自信心,走出“舒适区”。 但她们又不会为了销售一味盲从客人的喜好,而是以朋友的角度提出中肯的意见。曾经有个做医生的VIP客人喜欢上了一件设计大胆但并不适合自己的衣服,当时的店员毫不犹豫地说:这件衣服你穿起来太“crazy”了,显得你过于年轻。客人听完之后,非但没有生气,反而大笑起来,并感谢店员的大实话, 她说她就喜欢JNBY有点Crazy的衣服。后来这位客人成了她们的忠实粉丝。  

用心经营,将客人当作自己的朋友和灵感,JasmineXiao在短短3年时间已经成功的征服了客户的心。她们的服装完全超越了年龄、社会地位和种族,甚至是性别的界限,现在JNBY美国的客人纵跨多个年龄段,从15岁到90岁不等;客户群也从最早的了解该品牌的中国人发展到现在的亚美欧非小联合国 (非亚裔客户60%左右),其中包括有大学生、职场新人和功成名就人士;而男装品牌CROQUIS(速写)也吸引了一批喜爱帅气和不受束缚的女性客户。 

母女 vs. 合作伙伴 

年龄和角色的差别使这对母女不可免俗的在经营理念上时不时出现争议冲突,有时Jasmine也会不自觉的想以母亲的身份“镇压”下女儿,Xiao自然是据理力争,好在母女二人都是能很快地冷静下来,在争论中找到缓冲区,并由此探讨出新想法。Jasmine说她从女儿身上学到了好多她们这个年代年轻人特有的东西Xiao坚信衣服自身就是广告,而客人则是她们的服装大使和广告载体。这也是她们倾向于使用社交平台而不是传统的广告方式的原因,如通过和客人及店员互动、街拍,然后把照片发到Instagram或微信。Xiao借助手下年轻的团队,将她们的网店日益完善,现在网店的销售已经超过一家实体店,而以后也会成为她们的侧重点。

虽然很早就到美国来读书,但是Xiao对中国文化的热爱丝毫不亚于妈妈,而她在美国的这些年间目睹中国影响力越来越大,这也是促使她同妈妈共同经营JNBY的一个原因——让更多的人了解中国和中国文化。而她在大学所攻读的实用艺术专业则使她在服装搭配及品牌包装方面都有独到的见解和优势。 

张爱玲说,我们各人住在各人的衣服里。JasmineXiao母女俩则以JNBY演绎着她们自然又精彩的人生。 

JNBY is at the vanguard of China’s emerging design fashion industry. Short for “Just Naturally Be Yourself” in English, the Chinese name, Jiangnan Buyi, means “cotton apparel from south of the river,” a direct reference to the clothing line’s origins in southern China. But the name in Chinese also invokes poetry, peace, and serenity, central themes in the design and mission of the company. Since it was founded in 1994, JNBY has expanded to now include nine lines and more than 2,000 stores worldwide. Its name and reputation have made significant inroads in the U.S., Germany, Japan, Israel, and Russia. In October 2015 JNBY launched its first authorized retail store in the U.S. in Seattle’s Pacific Place shopping center; in 2017, JNBY opened a second store in San Francisco and a third in Bellevue at the Shops at the Bravern in 2018, a rate of one new shop a year. The driving force behind JNBY’s U.S. expansion has been Jasmine Zheng of Seattle andafter she completed college in 2017her daughter Xiao Li, who is mainly in charge of marketing and their online store. 

JNBY’s Initial Experience: Where It All Began

At first sight, Jasmine’s appearance is quite unassuming. Petite and of a southern Chinese upbringing, her Chinese name, Rui Yu, is more commonly used to describe handsomeness and wisdom. Although an engineer by training, she’s long had deep love and passion for traditional Chinese culture and art. It’s her unique personality—a soft exterior wrapped around an determine and driven inner core—that’s made the success of JNBY possible. 

Like many Chinese parents, Jasmine first came to Seattle in 2008 for her daughter’s education. Seattle’s natural beauty and quality of life were important factors in her decision to locate here. After settling in, she found that most reasonably priced clothes lacked design creativity. Clothing with more flair was often priced beyond the reach of most consumers. Seattle is also known to be a very casual city, where people tend to eschew the term “fashion” as a fake and superficial. Many Seattle residents have a strong connection with outdoors, reflected in their daily apparel, such as fleece and Gore-tex. Realizing the potential market for something different, she began to think about ways to combine modern fashion design ideas with a more naturalistic look. 

In the spring of 2014, Jasmine was invited to attend JNBY’s fashion show at a villa hotel next to the Linyin Temple in Hangzhou. The theme of the show was “Hermit,” where under dark light and the shadow of bamboo, models slowly walked down a narrow, winding path towards the audience, wearing flowing dresses that are modern and yet resembles the ancient Chinese hermits. Throughout the show, traditional Chinese music played in the background and traditional painting and ceramic arts were projected on the screen. Jasmine feels that each person is alone to some extent, so the spirit of the Hermit collection can relate to everyone. JNBY’s unique perspective of fashion design exudes both modernity and homage to the traditional Chinese arts and aesthetics, which left an indelible impression on Jasmine. She became enthralled with the JNBY brand and resolved to work with them to bring Chinese culture and fashion to the U.S. She wanted people in the U.S. to appreciate China not only as a manufacturer of clothing, but also for Chinese design. 

Opening the Store: The Right Time, Place and People 

Early on, Jasmine’s plan was to serve only as a JNBY wholesale representative. But after struggling to find a partnering store that shared her vision, she decided to risk opening her own store. After a period of meticulous planning, she approached the leasing office at Pacific Place, nervous and excited. She was initially told there were no available retail spaces for lease. But probably because of determination and passion, luck was on her side. After a short period, Pacific Place contacted her about a space that was opening due to a tenant departure. JNBY would go on to become Pacific Place’s first Chinese made and designed brand, run by someone who had no prior experience operating a retail store. 

Raising fashion brand awareness would be a major challenge for anyone, particularly for a foreign product. It was all the more difficult for Jasmine because of her barely passable English at the time. But, along with luck, she also had the support of friends, family, and local Chinese trade and cultural associations. Kristi Heim, then President of the Washington State China Relations Council, invited Jasmine to give a talk to the Council about her experiences as an entrepreneur before the store’s opening. Jasmine grinned reflecting on this moment: She never thought, given the state of her English, that she’d be able to give a presentation in English to Americans, but all it took was courage. Not only did this meeting help Jasmine connect with people who were able to assist her with navigating a completely different legal and regulatory system, but it also introduced her to new people, some of whom have since become life-long friends. Jasmine said that these are invaluable assets for new immigrants.  

Customers Are Friends and a Source of Inspiration 

Though Jasmine and Xiao are two petite and reserved southern women, once they start talking about ideas for running JNBY stores in the U.S., the quiet demeanor melts away, giving way to unrestrained enthusiasm, passion, and pride. 

“Clothing connects daily lives with the spiritual world,” Jasmine says. A core principle of theirs is to view clothing as a means of communicating and interacting with their customers. Clothes can awaken inner support, nurture confidence, and take us out of our comfort zone. They share their honest and objective opinions with their customers, just as a friend would do, rather than abiding by a customer’s preference for the sake of increasing sales. For example, they recalled a VIP customer who preferred a fashion style that was bold in design but not good fit for her. The sales associate told the customer, without hesitation, that she looked too “crazy” with this piece, and it was too young a look for her. Rather than being angry, the customer laughed and thanked the associate for her honesty. She said she just liked JNBY’s slightly “crazy” style and has since become one of JNBY’s loyal fans. 

Jasmine and Xiao, within the brief period of three years, have successfully conquered the hearts of their customers by doing business with sincerity and finding personal friendship and inspiration from their customers. Their fashion products completely transcend social and age status and ethnicity, and even gender boundaries. Today, JNBY’s U.S. customers span a wide range of ages, from 15 years old to 90 years old; customers have grown from Chinese who were familiar with the brand to a wide base from various ethnicities (approximately 60 percent of their customers are now non-Asian), and include college students, new professionals, and business elites. The men’s line CROQUIS even attracts female customers who desire styles that evoke the handsome and unconstrained. 

Mother and Daughter versus Partners 

Sometimes age and roles between mother and daughter can cause friction. Jasmine on occasion invokes her position as mother to veto Xiao, who at times becomes highly argumentative with her mother. But both are able to resolve this tension and explore new ideas from each other. For example, Xiao has taught her mother about what’s popular and in vogue among younger generations. She believes that when customers wear JNBY apparel, they help increase awareness of JNBY brand and are essentially ambassadors of the brand; the clothing itself can be a marketing channel. That’s why she prefers to leverage social media as a marketing platformfor example, by posting street fashion shots of customers and store associates wearing JNBY clothing on Instagram and WeChatrather than through traditional advertising. Xiao works with a young, highly spirited team of JNBY staff to continually improve and perfect the brand’s online presence and sales platform (jnby.us). Online sales have already exceeded some brick-and-mortar sales and will be their primary sales platform in the future. 

Even though she came to the U.S. before high school, Xiao’s love and embrace of Chinese culture is no less than her mother’s. Seeing the growing presence and influence of China in recent years was a key reason why she decided to team up with her mother, helping to raise the average American’s awareness of China and Chinese culture through fashion apparel. She also has a university degree in applied art, giving her a unique perspective on fashion and branding. 

According to Zhang Ailing (a famous Chinese writer), we each live in our own clothes. For Jasmine and Xiao, JNBY is an expression of their own inner true selves. 

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