Interview with Sarina Chieng

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The fashion industry in Europe creates some of the world’s most recognisable brands such as Armani and Louis Vuitton. It has also produced some of the richest people in the world; the owner of Zara, Amancio Ortega, who was named the third richest man in the world according to Forbes magazine 2013.

What are some of the secrets behind the success of the fashion industry; what are the latest trends and what are some of the lessons in branding that can be learnt?
We spoke to Ms. Sarina Chieng, who has returned to Brunei recently after having acquired a Master in Fashion Management from Domus Academy in Milan on these questions.

Why did you pursue your Master in Fashion Management in Milan?
I wanted a change from my current environment and to gain a different perspective on fashion. Pursuing a course overseas gives direct access to the fashion system within a supportive environment. Most of all, I have always been fascinated by how fashion brands are able to keep recreating that magic and evolving without losing their core identity.

What was the course about?
It covers everything one needs to know about the fashion industry from product development to launching events. The learning strategy involves a constant dialogue with managers, fashion industry practitioners and creative professionals working in the fashion world.

What were some of the highlights of the program?
Definitely the opportunity to work with major luxury brands and pitching our ideas against the project brief in real time. We worked with brands such as Issey Miyake, Calvin Klein Collection, Cartier and 10 Corso Como. My personal favorite was creating a marketing campaign for a perfume launch ‘Pleats Please’ by Issey Miyake. Our group presented a vending machine concept, which was unconventional for a luxury brand but the brand representatives loved the idea.

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Ms Sarina Chieng with fashion stylist Feyza Ogras

Tell us about the Fashion Industry in Europe.
The European market is home to the most absolute brands, which explains the strong predominance in the luxury market. However for the first time in history luxury brands face competition from mass premium brands such as Zara and Topshop. Today, fashion brands/luxury groups are present in many industries: clothing, shoes, leather goods, eyewear, perfumes, cosmetics, furniture, hotels/ restaurants/spas etc. Competition in fashion goods pushes companies to explore opportunities in other areas and for this reason they are multi-business. High quality and design is not enough. Brand, communication, retail and value chain dominance are the new assets.

Please elaborate on Value Chain Dominance?
A good case study on this is Luxottica Group – a leader in premium, luxury and sports eyewear. The group’s present strategy involves direct control over its entire production platform all the way to distribution. They own 7000 retail stores all over the world for eg. Sunglasses Hut, OPSM, optical departments at Target etc. For this reason, so many luxury brands go to Luxottica to manufacture their eyewear and access the group’s distribution network. I believe they own a large part of the global eyewear industry.

Are Zara, Top Shop, H&M and chains like Uniqlo good news for the fashion industry and the consumer? What is your opinion?
I think a lot of these fast fashion brands really took off when fashionable people (bloggers/editors/celebrities) began endorsing looks combining high street brands with luxury brands resulting in even more consumer demand than ever. This puts a lot of pressure on factories to deliver quality products with much shorter lead times. Some companies have started to address problems associated with fast fashion by training their buyers in responsible buying practices. Other fashion companies have chosen to integrate recycled textiles and clothing in their collections. We can also see that these same fashion brands have begun introducing more premium lines, a strategy to shed their poor quality image as a fast fashion brand. Whether we like it or not, these brands have their place in the market and are here to stay.

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Are there any unforgettable experiences or legends in the fashion industry whom you have met?
We had a few designer legends like Domenico Dolce and Roberto Cavalli who gave talks but personally I was most inspired by Felice Limosani. He tells stories and communicates ‘concepts’ and corporate values through multimedia art installations. He has done such amazing work for brands like Adidas, Tods, Swarvoski, Emiliio Pucci etc pioneering new forms of corporate branding to engage the new consumer. We asked what made him such a successful ‘concept’ designer and his answer was his 20-year experience as a music DJ. He is so passionate about his work; it’s hard to keep up with him when he starts talking!

What is your message to those passionate people who want to pursue an extraordinary career?
Trust your intuition and be ready to leave your comfort zone. It helps to write down what you want to pursue and list all the reasons why you want it. Keep the list to remind yourself especially during challenging times. A positive mental attitude also goes a long way!

This article was published in the Jan-Mar 2014 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!