Three months after Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana was forced to cancel a show in Shanghai following the release of a campaign video widely viewed as pandering to racist stereotypes, a new prize aimed at fostering emerging fashion talent from China is to be launched.
The BoF China Prize is a collaboration between fashion site, Business of Fashion, and Chinese investor, Wendy Yu, which aims to reframe how Chinese fashion is viewed in the west. The prize, which was announced last autumn, also hopes to act as a springboard for the careers of up-and-coming Chinese designers, with the winner receiving a hefty $100,000 – and a slot at London fashion week. On Thursday, Business of Fashion released its six-strong shortlist made up from recent graduates based in China and the rest of the world, and that includes streetwear label Staff Only and womenswear designer Xu Zhi. The judging panel includes Victoria Beckham and prominent fashion blogger, Susie Lau, who has been openly critical of the Dolce & Gabbana incident in November.
There is, of course, some financial motivation. According to the Boston Consulting Group, Chinese consumers are responsible for more than a third of luxury goods sales worldwide, a number predicted to grow to 40% by 2024, meaning the Chinese market will drive a whopping 75% of growth of the global market.
But the timing of the prize is pivotal for more holistic reasons – 2019 marks the first time China has overtaken the US as the world’s largest fashion market, although until recently, the market has been skewed toward western brands.
It’s hoped that the prize will kickstart a re-evaluation of China as a commercial market fit solely for exploitation by western brands. Yu told the Guardian: “China is playing a more significant role in the industry, not just on the manufacturing side.”
Although Dolce & Gabbana continues to feel the repercussions of November’s incident – Chinese media boycotted its February show in Milan – it’s not the first time they have demonstrated racial insensitivity. In 2016, they released a pair of “slave sandals”. But it is, arguably, the first time they have been held to account.
“There have been a number of recent incidents of global brands making ill-informed design and advertising decisions which at best reflect a general lack of awareness of global cultures and at worst are explicitly racist,” says Imran Amed, editor-in-chief of the Business of Fashion. Coupled with the ongoing racial issues within the industry, it’s hoped this sort of spotlight will change the agenda.