How to build a high-end brand in China: Dialogue with “Shang Xia”, a “child” of Hermes and Chinese native luxury culture

“Shang Xia” is a contemporary oriental elegant lifestyle brand jointly established by internationally renowned designer Jiang Qionger and French Hermes Group.

How to build a high-end brand from 0 to 1 in China? Lately, Prof. Klaus Heine, head of MSc in High-End Brand Management of emlyon business school, had an interview with:

  • Patrick Thomas, the former global CEO of Hermès Group, chairman of “Shang Xia”
  • Jiang Qionger, CEO and artistic director of the “Shang Xia”.

Klaus Heine, Jiang Qionger and Patrick Thomas (left to right)

A beautiful encounter

K: Good afternoon, Mrs. Jiang and Monsieur Thomas, we are here at the “Shang Xia Gallery” at Bvlgari Hotel. It’s a special location and a very special occasion, it’s the 10th birthday of “Shang Xia”. And I think that’s the perfect opportunity to look back, and to see how everything started, how it developed.

J: And also look forward.

K: Yes, exactly.

J: Same time, “Shang” and “Xia”.

K: I think when people wonder how to create high-end brand, then we have the perfect interview partner here. I want to start with the most difficult question. And this is how did it start? What was the founding story? How did you come up with the whole idea?

J: “Shang Xia” is created on a beautiful human encounter between myself and Patrick, and later also with Pierre-Alexis Dumas. It is a beautiful encounter, three of us, that we share the same passion for the renaissance or revive of Chinese traditional craftsmanship. How to bring the heritage, tradition to the future. And we all share this passion, and the key value. I think based on this, we start to create a new family, we start to breed a kid together, and kid’s name is “Shang Xia”. If Patrick is the father, I am the mother.

P: We developed together, because we realized that Qionger had a project of developing the Chinese craftsmanship again, which had been a little bit under cover for a while due to the political history of this country. We had the project of developing a company. Organic growth, I don’t mean an acquisition, but an organic growth based on the values of these jobs which are outstanding quality of the products, creativity and also developing a style. And it’s when Qionger speaks of an encounter, it’s the combination of these two targets, her targets about Chinese craftsmanship, my target about developing a new company, which trigger basically the birth of “Shang Xia”. We spent time together to get with Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the artist director of Hermes, to create a real vision what we wanted to do. Because the first step in a process like this one is to know where you are going. There is they say that the wind never blows to the right direction if you don’t know where you are going. We want to know first where we are going. From that point of view we are very successful, because we knew where we wanted to go. And ten years later we are almost there.

K: Before I am asking where this is, I would like to know, so if I understand it correctly, you already had in mind setting up a Shanghai-nese or a Chinese venture, you already planned that, but you didn’t have in mind to do this with Mrs. Jiang, so later you met, then you merged your ideas. Is this correct?

P: I didn’t know whether it could be in China. In fact, the encounter may be Chinese, but in fact the idea is to do it outside of France, to basically develop these values on the new soil, the new territory. Because we met, and because we had this discussion, basically it gave me this idea, also it gave Qionger the idea of doing something together. It is how we started thanks to the intermediary of the then CEO of Hermes in China.

K: Did you already, before this famous dinner meeting, did you already have in mind “I would like to create a Chinese high-end brand” or maybe even together with Hermes, or it all started from the dinner meeting.

J: I never think about to create a brand with Hermes before. But before I started already the journey of the renaissance of the Chinese craftsmanship through my own way, the little way. I have my agency, the design agency, and Hermes China for example was one of my clients, so I am taking care of their artist selection of the window shop, of the culture produce for China, the art books. So each time for example the window art installation, I invite, I use one craft from China into that creation. At the same time I also do my own creations through my design agency. I do collections for foreign brands, international brands for furniture, for jewelry, for other projects. And each time I always try to use or bring one craft or one know-how, one cultural inspiration from China through my way or through my little way to share with the contemporary world. So I started that passion, and I had that dream, and I have that pursuit. Until the day I met Patrick, met Pierre-Alexis, like, “Shang Xia” is starting after our beautiful human encounter.

Inherit the past and open to the future

 K: Yes I definitely think that you already have success factor. You already both talked about vision. Could you say it again very clearly what is the vision for “Shang Xia”? I mean also what is the higher purpose beyond making money that you have in mind for the brand.

P: You know, in a house like “Shang Xia”, what is the real vision? It’s to develop a super quality product company, a Chinese company which is able to make what China has the best to offer in terms of quality, which is a really creative process because creativity is the reason for the customers to come to the store, and to buy the product. And in order to secure a long-term company with a strong style. Style in this business is essential. Because style is basically what puts a range of products like as developed as “Shang Xia” furniture, shoes, fashion, jewelry and so on. What is the link between all these product categories which is so diverse or so different? It’s the style. Today if you see a furniture from “Shang Xia”, if you see a fashion from “Shang Xia”, if you see a jewelry, there are something in common which the styles are. And people recognize the style. Style is the strength of the company if you take the big names in France or in Italy, the luxury goods. The strongest one has the style. This is the attribute I want to pay to Qionger, because in ten years she managed to develop a real style. That’s the most challenging project in our industry, because many people develop brands, but brands is not the style. The style is much stronger. Brand like “Shang Xia” is not a brand, it’s a signature. It’s a signature behind the style of “Shang Xia”, it’s different from the brand, and of course global things make a brand. In fact “Shang Xia” is a company, it’s a signature which is basically the signature of “Shang Xia” style.

J: I totally agree with Patrick as he said, and I think if I use a few other words. The vision or the mission is like the name of “Shang Xia”, in Chinese there is a famous proverb “cheng shang qi xia”. I think all the Chinese team, they all know that sentence. “Cheng shang qi xia” means “cheng” is to take, “shang” here means heritage the past, “qi” to open start, “xia” here means future. Take the heritage from the past, and bring open it to the future. I think “Shang Xia” has that mission and vision to take the heritage from the ancient traditional craftsmanship, art of living, culture inspirations, and life philosophy. And then like Patrick said through contemporary design with the strong style, with excellent quality of products, and we open, bring it to future, to connect our past with the young generations with the future generations, and that is what you mean vision and mission beyond a commercial or pure financial project. That is meaningful.

Find the core-value

 K: Good, I think there is always this one higher purpose, an issue for a brand, but of course all the needs to be a mission on the level of a real customer value. Nobody just buys an idea, they needs to be a real customer, the USP traditionally. You already mentioned the style, the unique taste and style, how you could sum up the USP compare to higher brands. What is on the level of customer benefits, what do they get buying “Shang Xia” product?

P: USP in my eyes of “Shang Xia” it’s its style, because USP in our business is the style of company. Plus, which is very important, the Chinese touch, Chinese art-de-vivre touch, the combination of two makes it unique, it’s the U of USP, and our proposition is the outstanding quality of product. These products are, I think we can probably say it, the best product that you can make in China. Because we look for the best, and therefore the combination of the Chinese, the style, the Chinese origin of the style, and the level of quality makes it a form of USP.

J: I think I agree with Patrick. In “Shang Xia” the unique point is a combination of the strong style which means the creativity and then the quality, the excellence made by craftsmanship. And then the third is Chinese touch which means, each object has a little touch of cultural story from Chinese history, from the tradition. It’s an object with a culture touch which is from Chinese inspirations. So when you put these three together, that is unique. On top of that from the first or second year we started, we are creating not only objects putting these three into one object. We put these three also into “Shang Xia” experience, into “Shang Xia” service, into “Shang Xia” space, into “Shang Xia” events, into “Shang Xia” communications, these three. And then this energy makes that unique point even stronger because it’s not only in the product, in an object, but also in the service, the space. I think the real uniqueness of “Shang Xia” is we put the unique point, the uniqueness that we are talking about these three elements together into an object, and not only through product, but also into our service, into our space, into our experience, into the culture experience. These all get together that we offer to our clients.

Shang Xia Bamboo Weaving Teaware

Excellence has a cost

K: I think these are very clear points from a customer’s perspective. So why to buy a brand these are very clear benefits. Now we would like to talk about the success factors, what to do, what not to do. If you now look back to ten years, what are the factors you think they really made the brands successful, or if you would not have done something, that it would not have been successful. What are the key points that success of brand really depends on?

P: The first one I would say, is to have real clear vision. You need to know exactly what you want to do. As soon as you try to change a little bit, then you are losing strength. That’s the first point. The second point in that activity which I think is also true for many others is every decision and every act of the company has to be harmonized with the vision. Whatever decision you make, even the minor decision. You know, we say in this business, devil is in the details, “le diable est dans les details”, it is perfectly true. You can make little compromise in one corner and it is goanna destroy your business project. You have to reach, perfection will be too much because we are not perfect, but you have to reach a level of exigency of demand, and be very demanding, and accept no compromise. In particular, when it’s related to the real vision of when and what we want to do, and that’s why it takes time to create a name, a signature like “Shang Xia” because in a country like this one, there was no environment, no eco-system of luxury. So Qionger and her team then had to develop an eco-system. There was no designer, there was no craftsman, there were craftsmen, but they were not ready to run out the production, and to make, instead of making one item, they were not ready to make twenty or one hundred. You didn’t have the eco-system of quality. Therefore, before developing a company, she also has to develop an eco-system with her team. That’s taking a long time which means not only you have to be demanding with your own organization, in consistency with your own vision, but you also have to make all these people behind, suppliers, designers from outside, consistent of your vision. That is a challenge, and it is a challenge which takes more time than if you begin in Milan, for instance, because there you have an eco-system. Because here in this country, we didn’t have eco-system.

K: Can you give one example why you said it to make compromises, what would be a typical compromise that people will do to just be quicker or save money.

J: for example in China we have great crafts doing furniture with traditional system without any metal piece, without any nail, it’s all in wood, it is an incredible craftsmanship. And the treatment of wood also, we use precious wood, and the process is very long. And of course for example, you can make it shorter, and you can compromise on time, you can compromise on cost, you can compromise a lot, we don’t need to do the traditional 100% craftsmanship, we can add some metal pieces as a lot of European brands use it, it is much easier. And so that’s kind of shortcut, you feel like can save time, save cost, but your final product is not as good and or not as aligned with your vision, because we want to do the best, and we could achieve today. So this kind of compromise and  with craftsmanship in China as Patrick said when we started on 2008, 09, 10, there was still luckily workshops of artisans, of masters, but working with them, you start from zero, because there is no management, no quality control system, no process of production or development, so they can do one beautiful piece. So as we say, for example, we had a team permanently traveling around China. And we take them hand-in-hand, we bring process to them, we bring management to them, we teach them, we share with them how to control the quality different steps. We want to help them to achieve, to develop. And ten years later today, we are more or less ready with this eco-system of craftsman workshops. And of course, if we do shortcut, it’s complicated, we want to earn money, so maybe, we should go to factories.

P: If you go through the industry, you receive a prototype of furniture for instance, which is perfect. You say ok now you have to make 100. And out of 100, you have 50 ok 50 not ok, that’s compromise. You could say. oh I need them to sell. You shouldn’t, don’t compromise.

J: And our quality control, some quotes from our clients, they say “it is almost cruel”, which means…

K: You destroyed things that are almost excellent.

J: For example our porcelain, the “Shang Xia” high temperature porcelain, we are looking for perfection. The color should be really harmonious everywhere, no bubbles, no tiny dots, otherwise, we all destroy it. We could do compromise. At the beginning, from 100 we may only get 10. So that’s a decision to make. You open bigger or larger your quality control standard, or keep loyal to your vision. So, we always choose the second. Stay loyal.

P: Excellence has a cost.

J: Excellence has a cost.

Shang Xia flag shop in Shanghai

Price and value

K: When you also think back to last ten years, I imagine that you both were in very close contact and discussed the strategy. Do you remember issues that you thought very like important, and discussed long time about it? And you thought could be this way or that way. So what are the things that you discussed or thought long time about it?

P: We could, very easy. One example, we had almost discussion about it every year. But I think we agree on that one. Should we make very expensive products, or should we make accessible products? Because it has a big impact on the image of your name. If you make the product which you sell at 150 RMB or if you make the product which you sell at 150000 RMB, it has big difference in terms of image. And our position is common, price is irrelevant, we have to make a range of category, from 1 million RMB to a thousand RMB. We have to make an outstanding product, because even if the product is not too expensive, it has be outstanding in terms of the quality. Therefore, we have to make a brand of excellence, but we wanted it to be accessible. Because many people they will start buying an object not too expensive to make a little gift or for themselves and then gradually they will go up the ladder, and eventually buy a product of exception. It’s an entry door, that’s just an example. Because when you work out a vision, the vision is not dead, the vision is alive. Therefore, a vision being alive can evolve, you cannot change it 180 degree. You are allowed to say, here we have to adjust a little. This is the only way to do, when you are in a business. There has to be some flexibility, but not too much.

J: But I see, you know, the price is just a reference. The most important is the perceived value that the client get it. Value and price are two totally different system. At “Shang Xia”, what we were creating, whatever the price from 50 euros to 500000 euros that we got a piece like that. It’s not about the price, it’s about what the value we can create for the customer. For “Shang Xia”, we have beautiful small gift set which is only 50 to 200 euros price. But the value we get to this object, when people receive it, it is very high, is much higher than the price. And this is what we should pack to them, and also I think the question we discussed about “Shang Xia” is a name. Shang and xia means beyond and below, up and down. It is a Chinese oriental philosophy, up and down is opposite. It’s like east and west, sky and earth, past and future, tradition and contemporary life styles, craftsmanship and technology, it’s all like shang xia relationship. Exceptional piece and accessible collections. It’s “shang” and “xia”. In “Shang Xia” it’s not about choose one or another, it’s about keep both and encounter them in dialogue and find a beautiful balance or harmony in-between. This is very oriental thinking, the philosophy of thinking. And that’s why I think in “Shang Xia” we have both, and also this morning as we shared with French press that in ten years we create one complete circle, which took us ten years to complete. And that circle is composed by two half circles. First half circle is we bring the museum level or the museum collected heritages like craftsmanship, aesthetic, art of living, culture inspiration. We bring them out from the museum from history, bring them back to the daily life through our collections, accessible collections, collections with the usage, function. This is the first half circle. Another half circle is creating, doing the best. The most excellent of today we could achieve from craftsmanship, raw material, creativity, and we don’t mind any of the cost, the time. We do the best. We do one piece, piece unique, limited editions whatever. And these pieces go back to the museum, permanently collected by the most famous and renowned national museum from the world. British Museum, Guimet Museum. Then we, our works become the new witness of the history of the 21st century. This is also the balance that we are talking as exceptional piece and accessible piece, the representing two half circles each.

Stick to the vision

K: Pretty good, I imagine that over the ten years, there maybe was also something where you did not have the same opinion? Maybe later you convinced the other. Was there anything when you had different opinions about strategy?

J: No, we’re always on the same page.

P: No…You are talking about the strategies. No, we never had, because we started at very good alignment at the beginning. It seems to be quite logical, it went very softly.

K: It’s probably another success factor that you have one mind, one vision.

P: That’s why it’s so important to share the vision from the very beginning. Because if you agreed on a vision, then all your decisions basically derive from the vision. So it’s much easier to manage than if you don’t know, much easier to manage that way. Of course we never had a shout out or basic disagreement, at least on anything important.

J: As Patrick said “Shang Xia” has been born on a beautiful human encounter. The beautiful encounter means you share same vision, same value of life and philosophy. It’s not a financial oriented negotiation as the start, it’s a beautiful human being encounter oriented, culture oriented, the vision oriented. That’s the start point. It’s like a marriage. The purpose of marriage is because of love, not because of any other things.

P: Why is Apple so successful? Because Steve Jobs, he knew what exactly he wanted to do. He wanted to facilitate life of his customers, and give them as many services in one little iPad. The whole organization of Apple at the beginning was around this vision. And then obviously decisions are easy to make. And why it is probably more difficult today, because they need a new vision, because of course the new generation. So we very often in the company, and in particular in this business, the strategic problem or the strategic hesitations come from the lack of vision. Or the fact that the vision is little obsolete, or the fact that you have to rejuvenate it and to do it again. Because not only the vision has to be a little flexible, it also has to be about your business, which we didn’t realize from the beginning. You have to do it, you may have something wrong, because time goes on, because this country is not the same as ten years ago, because customers changed, because they have grown, because it has more culture, because it knows the company better, so you have many reasons to adjust. And there is no point in not doing that. We have to do that, we have to be brave. Even we have to say, we have done it wrong, no problem.

Understand Chinese philosophy

K: In the next part we are goanna talk about the culture. What is the company culture of “Shang Xia” you think that makes it unique comparing to other high-end brands?

J: I think the culture of “Shang Xia”, the company culture is the culture from China. The culture from China is the culture which is very generous. The Chinese culture can embrace all different cultures into our culture. And I think from “Shang Xia”, also we start the culture of generosity. The generosity is not only to the clients but also the offer, I learned a lot from Patrick. The sentence Patrick always shared with me, luxury brand is to create, and anticipate the desire of our clients. And mass market is to satisfy the needs of the clients, which means we are generous to offer, to anticipate, to create, and offer the design, and maybe even they don’t know, to them. And generosity is also to the artisans that we are not only doing business, but also help them to grow with us, to develop with us. It’s not like you have to make all your responsibilities, otherwise it’s the generosity to embrace them into us. The clients are the same, the team is the same, and I think this is the first of “Shang Xia” company culture. Second is the authenticity, being authentic in this society, in the age of virtual, internet, authenticity is something precious. And I think the way how we work in the team, in the company, and how we work with the craft people, artists, and clients in the service. Everything we do is with authenticity. It is the true heart from us. And then I think the third way is about creativity. We are small. The smaller you are, the more creative you need to be. And I think we are really enjoying the beauty of being small. And we can be really creative to try a lot of different creations or ideas, not only in product, but also in the business model, how we invent, create own business model, the journey, and also the service, the experience, the brand communications, everything we need extreme creativity. We don’t have the huge budget like all established brands, but the clients they have the same expectation, because they think “Shang Xia”, gratefully they take us like the real luxury brands as beautiful as Dior, Chanel, Hermes or other brands, so they may have the same expectation of our brand. So as we are small, we have to be really creative. To create the emotional value that we are lucky that “Shang Xia” is a brand from Chinese culture. Chinese culture is rich enough to support us, to create some culture oriented, emotional experience to our clients. I think for “Shang Xia”, its generosity, authenticity and creativity as the culture. You want to add one more?

P: Yes, because there were something you cannot say, besides these three values. What Qionger did very well is to organize the life of the company around these values and took it internally. Because these values if you only see, when we examine the staff vis-à-vis the customers, but we don’t even buy these values in the company, it doesn’t work. Everyone, from the most basic employee to the top, has to live by these values internally to share with the other, to be generous to the other in the day to day life. Being generous doesn’t mean only money, it means the attitude of mind. That is what happening in this company for the moment, and it’s clearly coming from the top.

K: And as Hermes is of course very related, could you compare the culture, the company culture of and “Shang Xia” and Hermes. I guess there are many similarities, but there’re also some differences there?

P: The difference is because of the size. You cannot compare a company which makes a turnover 6 to 7 billion euros, with a company our size, it is different. We don’t have the same age. We are not at the same generation. “Shang Xia” is a smaller family. We have to build on it, because it is a plus, it’s not a minus. When you reach a level of 15,000 to 20,000 people, we try to remain the family. But it’s more difficult, and the family is larger, so it’s difficult to compare. But there are a lot of similarities. What is different is the style. There is nothing in common between Hermes and “Shang Xia” product, excellence of quality, the style. But of course the attitude in terms of values, of exigence are being very demanding. Also federating your supplier. All of these are very common. We did not invent it here. We also use the best practices as we can adequate in this industry.

Klaus Heine and Patrick Thomas

K: Could you tell us is there any like cultural philosophy, Chinese philosophies that inspire you for “Shang Xia”?

J: All the time, so many. Started from the name, “Shang Xia”, that philosophy was coming from Taoism of China. In life there are full of opposite sides. You should not choose one or another, you should keep both, make them dialogue, and find the balance in between, and that’s our life philosophy. And I think everything we do, it’s all inspired by Chinese life philosophy. For example, the Chinese ink and brush painting, you have a lot of empty spaces, the white on white paper, you only make few trace on the paper. So in Chinese philosophy, the emptiness even makes the paintings more powerful. In life, is the same, you should have some moment of, in French we say “le vide”, the emptiness, and some blank space. So for example why we create the “Shang Xia” tea space and incense space, it’s a moment where you can escape from the daily life, and to have a moment of being with yourself, and keep your daily life empty only with yourself. So, I think the philosophy is everywhere, from the craftsmanship. When we work with them, or even technique from product design, from the space, the Chinese culture, philosophy inspiration is everywhere.

J: You know we read a lot of Chinese philosophies since we were a kid. So it is always in us. It’s like I studied in France, I studied in China. When I do a design, it’s not like 40% is from my French experience, 60% from… They are all in you, and it’s already one. The Chinese philosophy or life is the same, it’s all inside. So whatever you do, you are always influenced by the Chinese philosophies. Whatever you do.

K: Is there any artistic movement that you like, and it also inspires you when you create products?

J: “Shang Xia” we have in fact three esthetic and inspirations from the past, from three dynasties. The furniture from Ming Dynasty. The objects from Song Dynasty. And the garments from Han Dynasty. And if you check these dynasties, all of these dynasties they have very similar style. As Patrick said, la légèreté, the lightness, and intemporel, the timeless. If you are lucky to have a piece of furniture of Ming today, you can easily combine it into your contemporary life, you know the daily life today. Without, wow…this is antique, it’s timeless, and it is contemporary still today if you watch it. And I think the inspiration for “Shang Xia” collections are mainly coming from these three dynasties. And I think this influences us a lot. All of our furniture are inspired by furniture from Ming; the objects, the home collections from Song; and the garments, the silhouette from Han Dynasty.

J: You know the inspirations or the influence is really everywhere. When you listen to Opera Kun, it is one of the most ancient opera from 600 years ago, it will influence you. When you go to a workshop to see some artisans, some half-done which not finished yet product will inspire you. When you go to university to share with some students of university, with some exchange or conferences, their questions will inspire you. And sometimes when you go travel on holiday, you discover some local culture, stories, it will inspire you. So I think it’s everywhere, it’s anytime. So in my bed I always have a notebook. When you get something, you have to write it down. So sooner or later, maybe not now I should do everything but sooner or later I could have a lot of opportunities to integrate these influence or inspirations.

Not look like Chinese, be Chinese

K: For me it seems like if I would like to try to make a Chinese brand, and I make just a product look Chinese, I think it’s a very different thing as what you do. Because it feels like that you are creating things, you have philosophies that is the most important thing. And these objects are just expressing your idea. It’s totally different like way of doing thing.

J: Indeed. As you said, a lot of western brands, they want to do Chinese inspiration collections, one shot. Because it’s trendy. So what they do, I call it the first degree interpretation of Chinese inspiration, which means directly from the pattern, like they put the dragon on clothes, they put phoenix, they put Chinese characters, they put these kind of most evident pattern or motif. For me this is the first degree, the most superficial degree of trans-cultural interpretations. And this will not last, they will never become timeless. It’s a one-shot collection. And “Shang Xia” is a real brand born in China, from Chinese culture. We should do a second, even third level of Chinese inspiration interpretations. I always show to my team what should we do is “Qu Qi Shen, Qu Qi Xing” which means keep the spirit of the Chinese style, something abstract, maybe is the proportion, maybe is the material, maybe is like the visual impressions, maybe is the touch, maybe is the poetic imagination, something spiritual and abstract. And abandon, put aside or the visible shape, the codes. This is how we interpret the Chinese culture into our collection.

K: So you start with the mind. I think we started talking about the philosophies, the underlying philosophies, and it is expressed by products, but it is also expressed by the lifestyle. And I would like to know now what are other things that people can see, what is the lifestyle, what people can observe of “Shang Xia”. I think there’s a lot to do with the tea culture, maybe also with the art culture, maybe you can explain what is this lifestyle for all these brands?

J: In fact “Shang Xia” is a brand that we focus on whole and family. Family is the key word. Everything is passed by family, heritage, emotion, love is through families. So the art of living that we share with our clients is focused on family, and with the oriental art of living around tea, around incense, around seasonal flowers. And around in Chinese we call it “Qin, Qi, Shu, Hua, Cha, Xiang, Hua”, we all know the seven aspect of art of living. “Qin” music, “Qi” the chase, “Shu” calligraphy, “Hua” painting, “Cha” tea, “Xiang” incense, “Hua” flowers. So it’s not independently like this separately, it should be all together to create a poetic life. For us the most luxurious lifestyle is not about what you can have only, is about the poetry you have in your life. So for example “Shang Xia” since 2 years (ago), we started a “Shang Xia” culture academy. That this time we bring it to Beijing, we started in Shanghai. In the “Shang Xia” culture academy, we organize and we propose different conference, different workshops, and different master classes, all around art of living that I have talked about. But everything in a contemporary way, the setting is contemporary, and the objects you use are contemporary, everything is contemporary. But the original know-how of this art of living is from the past.

K: Where, is it in Ming Dynasty, could I choose what past I am taking?

J: No, it’s a share of each. For example tea, we have different lectures about tea, in different dynasties. You travel back, and then you travel back again to today.

K: But “Shang Xia” is not taking like deciding for one specific dynasty or one specific lifestyle within each of seven aspects.

J: No, we only, like Patrick said, we bring the beauty into our daily life. We are not like professor to teach. It’s a sharing process more than teaching process. And I think what we can offer to our clients, it should be beyond buying purchase objects, how can you really use these objects, and really bring the beauty into your daily life where you share with your family and friends.

P: We make the objects, but it’s our customer who makes them beautiful.

J: We help them to realize that.

K: Last part is actually about the face of the brand, which is you. I want to know as an entrepreneur, you can think about whether I want to put my face on the brand, otherwise I stay in the back. When “Shang Xia” develop, you became the face of the brand. And I think of course it works very well, but I want to know how did it came. Did you decide it?

J: It was not a decision. It just becomes like that.

P: It’s difficult for Qionger to answer this question. Maybe I can do better. Because a brand like this one is very much reflecting the personality of its head designer, who is the artistic director. It’s true for Chanel, it’s true for Hermes, and it’s true for almost everyone. And in particular when you start a new brand from scratch, it is the personality of designer which is the brand. “Shang Xia” today is very much Qionger. Maybe in one century, there will be a sort of different changes. If our succesors are loyal to the origin of brand, it should remain so. Exactly Chanel is still Coco Chanel. So by definition and naturally, the person which embodies the brand is the artistic director. It’s quite exceptional that it’s not the case. In our case it came naturally, but we never make a decision, to tell you the truth.

K: Because I think it has many advantages if you want to have a personal connection to a brand, from customer to a brand. It is much nicer to have a beautiful face, a person, a characteristic person. There are advantages. Is this mainly also about how you deal with customers. It has impact on that. What else are the advantages having a face on your brand?

P: The biggest advantage is the authenticity. Because it is what we are. Qionger is what “Shang Xia” is. So what the point is in put anything else before the brand. By the way, she’s before the brand from time to time, but she was much more behind the brand before. You know Laozi, he said if you want to lead people, work behind them. Most of the time she is behind. From time to time she has to be in the front. Because she has to embody the brand, she has to represent it, she has to illustrate, so that people see a face. People need a face, they need a personality, and they need a character. And the character of “Shang Xia” is very close to Qionger’s character. It’s natural. It’s not a decision. It is, as it is.

K: But I think it’s a decision in a way that you need a certain personality to do that, depending on who is creating the brand… I think charismatic person is the requirement.

P: Charismatic is not enough. Charismatic is the shape, is the form. You need the ground. You need the content. The big achievement for Qionger was to develop the content. Of course, on the top of that she can illustrate and embody the brand, and we have it 100%. I reply, because she cannot say that.

K: If we now imagine the brand personality of “Shang Xia”, is it your personality of your private person. Is this the same, or it’s similar, or are there any differences at all?

J: It’s the same. As Patrick said, it’s the authenticity. So my way of being people, or mother, or daughter, or wife, or sister, or as director or designer, so in the life we have all different roles. So I think my personality in private life and in “Shang Xia” is same. It’s really authentic. For me I don’t even have separated private life and professional. For me I am very lucky, and I’m very grateful that what I am passionate about is becoming also my projects. So for me I don’t have moments like “oh I am going to work”. For me every day is one beautiful day of my life. And in which you have families, you have “Shang Xia”, you have creation, creative jobs, you have management jobs. Every day I live in a full day of meaning. And there’s no one day my life is the same. So that is exciting, very grateful. So that’s why I don’t have a dual or different personality. It’s all same.

Shang Xia flag shop in Shanghai

What’s next?

K: You said at the beginning you wanted to also talk about the future. I would like to know what your future vision is. Where is “Shang Xia” in ten years?

J: I think if we take “Shang Xia” as a kid, a kid of ten years old. The process of growth of a brand is exactly like the kid. My son, my number three, I have 5 kids, my number three son was born two months before the birth of “Shang Xia”, so same age. If you observe my son, you know how the kid “Shang Xia” it is now. I think my reply is the same with Patrick, we don’t know where we will be exactly landing in ten years, but I wish is that now the kid is then years old “Shang Xia”. In ten years the kid will be 20 years old which means he will become an adult. So I wish that kid, “our kid”, “Shang Xia” in 10 years will become a real healthy, beautiful adult who has beautiful personality, authentic value as us. Which means, adult means he can live independently, he can live by himself, he can start his own journey, that we call adults. This is I think however the form or the components or the context it will be, which means however which university, which field whatever, but we wish that in ten years, “our kid” becomes a beautiful human being as an adult, and take the responsibility for the future.

K: It’s a very good reference. The last closing remark, if you think about students they want to create their own high-end brand maybe in a very different industry. What recommendation would you give them on their way? What should they consider that maybe you did not talk about?

P: The recommendation is what we discussed. You have to do exactly what you have to do.

J: Yeah, the vision.

P: It’s so important the vision, so many people who fail because their vision, either they had no vision or the vision was weak. And there are very few failures when you have a strong vision, very few. There are, of course, by definition. Execution is also of the essence. But with a strong vision you are strong. So in this case, I always saw in my business life, which is unfortunately or fortunately. If you have a strong vision, you are strong, and your company is strong. So for someone who wants to start, do not start until you have an absolutely clear vision of what you are, and you make sure it’s feasible. You see many big CEO who develop a vision, and then they say together we execute it, no you have to make sure what can be executed.

K: Good. Thank you very much for the interview. It was a pleasure.

About MSc in High-End Brand Management 

The MSc in High-End Brand Management at emlyon business school is an English-taught, 24-month program including a 4 to 6-month internship. 50% of the programme taught in Shanghai while the rest is spent in Paris. 

The MSc in High-End Brand Management (HEBM) is intended for potential top-level managers capable of assuming leading positions in international high-end companies.

It is designed to grow a new generation of leading marketing and branding specialists, who are sensible to the special requirements of the high-end industry and who acquired the strategic and analytical skills to successfully guide companies’ in the high-end cultural & creative industries, especially European/Western high-end brands with operations in China as well as Chinese high-end brands.

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Content crafter at China Admissions with nine years of professional writing experience. Fil-Chinese who honors my heritage every day. On a fascinating journey exploring China and tracing my ancestry. See China through my lens.
Christine Chiu

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