Interview of Isabelle Capron, International Vice-President Paris/Shanghai and General Manager Paris Icicle, a major player in high-end ethically made clothing and accessories for women and men.
1. In France, as in China, the Covid-19 pandemic has deeply affected societies and economies. How did you experience this health crisis?
Isabelle Capron: First of all, as an unthinkable challenge, unthought by the West, a historic event in my life. Then as an observer of the Chinese reactivity, its discipline and its digital agility to compensate for physical sales, from the beginning of the containment. I perceived the difference in mentalities between the West and China (health discipline, digital reactivity, post-covid rebound, consumer appetite, belief in the future). There is also the acceleration of major societal trends: greening, digitalization, localization, questioning the meaning of consumption. Finally, the highlighting of underestimated professions (health, food distribution or e-commerce, the role of immigrants and the health professions).
2. In the Chinese ideogram of the crisis there is also opportunity. What have you learned from the crisis?
Yes, WEI JI means “danger and opportunity”. At the macro-economic level: respect for the planet must be at the center of political concerns and business leaders. At the micro economic level: the efficiency of telework as a factor of life improvement but also of isolation of individuals: problems for the distance management of young talents, the awareness of the uselessness of the international travel mania, the rapid improvement of the environment when the economy slows down, the questioning of lifestyles and business models of companies which will all have to “green” themselves.
3. How is the recovery going for your business in France and China? In Paris, how is your store doing?
Very well in China, Icicle is “the brand of the moment” by its urban Eco Fashion positioning for 23 years, the impact of Covid-19 is only -3% at the end of July vs 19%, and resumption of a +25% increase against 19% since last May. Vitality and rebound of international luxury brands in China, following the end of intercontinental travel. In France, the timid recovery in September, supported by regular events at the store at 35 Avenue George V, was slowed by the November shutdown.
Patience will be required in Europe.
4. Can we create a new “Natural Way fashion” segment on an industrial scale?
This has been Icicle’s ambition for 23 years. This early vision of luxury Eco Fashion has allowed the company to take a lead through a deep knowledge of the most natural ways of sourcing (manufacturers), designing (anti-excess design), producing (clean factories) and distributing environmentally friendly fashion on a large scale. Icicle masters the industrial scale by having from the beginning integrated its production to better control it (3 factories in the Shanghai region, an additional industrial center under construction).
5. What is the status of the establishment of Icicle stores in China?
We have a network of 300 stores, a megastore in Shanghai Super Brand Mall of 900m2 beginning 21, 5 flagships (Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai), a 20% increase per year. We are also developing Carven with 5 stores in Shenzhen, Chengdu, Beijing SKP, 2 GHS, and e-commerce.
“Made in Earth” is the “New Made in China”.
6. You defend the new Made in China.
I have seen it developing under my eyes in the fashion industry for the past 7 years, and I see every day the will of Icicle’s founders to improve themselves in this way to influence the industry. The New Made in China is the end of stereotypes: the advent of quality, brands, an alliance between tradition (for Icicle, the Taoist inspiration of harmony between man and nature, heritage of noble materials such as silk, loose-fitting clothes) and modernity (international style and advanced industrial technologies) to sublimate natural materials). Icicle has invested in this path at an early stage, and is the leader today with more than 20 years of technological advance).
Other sectors are also witness to it: tech with BATX (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Xiaomi, Huawei), artificial intelligence, green cities, all digital (we chat, Tik tok, weibo), the end of cash, etc… China is getting ahead…
7. The knowledge of Chinese luxury is still impressive? What is the difference in the approach of the Chinese, including in business. “The Chinese are more intuitive, they feel when we think.”
They will gladly say “I feel” and we will say “I think”, their way of thinking is circular, where ours is logical, Cartesian, straightforward, the practice of “test & learn” is a principle in the progress of projects, their speed of execution and their eagerness to work are superior to ours, while having a long time in the vision, the confidence in the future and in the rulers is strong, to follow the current a principle, the mentality is positive and not contradictory, the “and” prevails over the “or”, it is necessary to cooperate, to merge the ideas, to do “at the same time”, to seek the harmony of the ideas and the men. Enthusiasm at work is striking, and there is a saying that says “the company’s performance is a function of the happiness rate of its employees”.
8. With TitTok, Alibaba, WeChat, Xiaomi, are Chinese brands really coming to the West?
Yes, because they have competitive advantages. After the American (Mc Do, Nike, etc.) and Japanese (Uniqlo, Muji) brands, Chinese brands are going to find an international place with their own values (Icicle, WeChat, Alibaba, etc.). This century will see China exporting its brands, after Europe, the USA, Japan, and tomorrow India?
Icicle – in Chinese, the name means “seed that germinates” – was created by a couple of designers: they ensure they carry other values, stemming from their culture, such as the harmony between man and nature.
In China, coming from Taoist thought, the reverence for nature, the centrality of harmony and unity between man and nature has powerfully inspired the founders of Icicle to dare to think fashion differently. Hence the symbolism of the Chinese name, evoking the philosophy of the brand: take from nature its vegetable or animal materials, transform them into clothes, which themselves will return to nature.
The founders say they are not Chinese, but ‘New Chinese’, they embody a rising generation, representing a country more resurgent than emerging. They wish to contribute to change the negative image of China and the “Made in China”, (low quality, unattractive, polluting), from where its concept “Made in Earth” (made with Nature), as a wink to the image of the New Made in China.
9. Icicle has invented the “Made in Earth” concept, the new signature of the brand: A desire for both aesthetics and ethics, a reasoned luxury
“Made in Earth” is the “New Made in China”, it is made with the earth, but also with talents from all over the world since Icicle mixes oriental and occidental talents.
This article was originally published on Paris Fantastic!, our content partner.