Interview With Fei Wang: Asian Fit Sunglasses
China-born and London-based designer Fei Wang has made it her mission to address a common frustration among Asian women: finding luxury sunglasses that fit properly. In late 2007, Wang created her own label, Fei Wang Sunglasses, and has since sold her hand-made, European-manufactured sunglasses online and in boutiques in London and Japan. This week, Jing Daily spoke to Wang about her upcoming expansion plans and the developing potential she sees among Chinese consumers.
Jing Daily (JD): First, can you tell us a little about yourself and your business, in terms of how you first became interested in eyewear design and sunglasses?
Fei Wang (FW): I’ve been interested in eyewear since I was little. I was always wearing glasses, since I was short-sighted. My dad wears glasses, all of my family are four-eyes…so I’ve always been interested in eyewear. What made me start doing what I do is because being [Asian], I can’t find glasses, especially good-styled glasses that actually fit our facial features. We normally have high cheekbones and low nose-bridges and the distance between the temple is slightly different than Caucasians. So it’s been my own frustration of not being able to find anything that fits me and also, design-wise, never being able to find anything I really like.
I used to complain to people, why can’t I find things, then I thought I’d do it myself. So when it started, I actually looked for somebody who could make me bespoke glasses, and it took me a little while to find a manufacturer and do the design. It came out really well so I thought, “I can share this with other people.” That’s how the business came about, really.
JD: What year was that, that you really started [Fei Wang]?
FW: The business started around 2007. It took me around a year to find the right manufacturer and get the design done, so the business actually started late 2007.
JD: So you first started thinking about making the Asian-focused eyewear pretty early on then?
FW: Yes, I had thought about it for some time. It’s the difference between thinking about something and actually doing it. So I had been thinking about it for a long time but never actually had the courage to do it because reading Psychology and Anthropology at [University], my studies had nothing to do with design. It took a little while to push myself to go ahead and do it, but I really enjoy it.
JD: Your sunglasses are designed in England and manufactured in Europe, so as you’re getting more into the China market, has that been an advantage business-wise? That kind of Europe/UK pedigree?
FW: Yes, I guess that is an aspect people quite like about the brand, the fact that it’s made in Britain, really like a British good. The reason I actually started doing it is because it’s local, and also for me, there’s really not that many factories that do these things by hand. Most of the glasses and eyewear nowadays is all injection-molded and mass-produced and manufactured outside Europe. So it’s actually quite rare to find something that is actually hand-made — and I like things that are hand-made by people. It’s one of the reasons that it’s actually done in Europe because it’s local to me: I can always go to the manufacturers, to talk about design, to work together really.
And that, luckily, is one of the bonuses. People in Japan and China love British-made goods. It has worked to my advantage, I guess.
JD: In terms of marketing your product, what’s been your most successful marketing technique so far?
FW: Word of mouth, really. The cheapest and most effective marketing so far. Because I’m based in the UK, and apart from the UK, most of my customers are based in the US and Japan and Southeast Asia, so it’s all remote. [Many] people go online and search for “sunglasses, Asian sizes” and word spread as people bought my sunglasses and liked them, then told their friends.
I was lucky that I also went to Japan a few times through British Fashion Export, so we went to Japan and did trade shows and that was quite effective. I really like what I do. We haven’t actually done too much marketing abroad, but it’s something that we’re working on this year and hopefully in coming years.
JD: You said your biggest success so far has been in the US and Japan and Southeast Asia. In those markets, which one has been your top single market so far?
FW: I would say Japan. [In] Japan I’ve got solid clientele, boutiques. US is my biggest online market. In the US, most of the customers I have are individual customers. It’s quite popular especially in LA, Orange County, and New York. That’s something we’re seeing. We went to the States last year, just to really try to introduce the brand properly there. We got quite a bit of interest from the shops and distributors that we’re negotiating with, so hopefully!
JD: To go back to your marketing strategy, you said that most customers right now find you based on word of mouth. I was wondering what kind of new marketing strategies you’re considering.
FW: In London, last week, I actually had a meeting with a marketing company. But for me, my strategy will be just to grow organically. I’m more interested in having a gradual sort of market strategy to get press exposure and to get distributors staged and maybe do a few launches in big cities, like Tokyo, New York, LA, Beijing, and Shanghai.
JD: In terms of that, what’s the timeline for that kind of expansion? Last year you visited the US, and you’re pretty established in Japan now. What’s your timeline for expanding more heavily into the China market, say Beijing or Shanghai?
FW: China is a tough market, but it’s the biggest market as well. I think the confidence level of Chinese consumers has grown as well over the last few years. So you do see a trend, especially when I went to Shanghai, of consumers slowly moving away from just big brands and designer brands and taking an interest in smaller designers, independent designers, and new designers as well. That will be quite an interesting trend to watch, so Shanghai will definitely be my first approach in mainland China.
It’s interesting to see people [in China] spending money on things that actually have been hand-made rather than just going to Louis Vuitton or Chanel. It’s quite encouraging for smaller designers like myself. Hopefully, this year and next year, we’ll do some launches in shops and collaborations with boutiques.
JD: In looking at a China expansion strategy, are you worried about people trying to copy your designs, or is that not really on your radar right now?
FW: Lots of people ask me about that but I think [when] people want to copy your designs, sometimes it’s quite a good thing, it’s something worth copying. Otherwise, it’s quite encouraging: “Oh, people actually copying my design, it must be good!” I mean, those things you just can’t avoid, unfortunately. It doesn’t matter how much you protect yourself. But the customers that I want are not customers who really go on the street and buy fakes for ten dollars. It’s people who really want to spend money on design, the actual quality of the glasses, and the concept behind the brand. So yeah, I’m not really too worried, but you know, it’s something I’ll really have to think about in the future, I guess.
JD: You said you’ve got your sights set on Beijing and Shanghai, but what about other markets like Hong Kong? Would you consider Hong Kong an easier market, or a harder market to enter?
FW: Hong Kong is probably an easier market. I’m already talking to shops in Hong Kong, as well as South Korea. I think style and fashion-wise, they’re a little ahead of mainland China. But you know, Shanghai and Beijing, big cities in mainland China, are catching up very quickly. Hong Kong, for me personally, will definitely be slightly easier to do business and expand in.
JD: Brands like Chanel and Dior are so dominant in the sunglasses market in China. You’ve said that you’re looking for a more sophisticated consumer who wants to buy new designers, but how else do you plan on competing with these big companies in China? Is it word of mouth again? Or do you have some other plans?
FW: I’m actually not really thinking about competing with them. I think the market they’re targeting and the sort of consumer I’m targeting is slightly different. I can’t compete with the bigger companies with big financial backing and proper adverts and advertising campaigns. For me, my brand is an independent, small brand, and it’s mainly eyewear, and the quality of the glasses and how they’re made are different. For me, it’s more of a personal relationship that I have, this method of individual customers, buyers, or boutiques. This is a quirky, little brand, but maybe when the brand gets to a certain stage, I’ll have to think about competing with bigger brands like Chanel.
JD: For the China market, would you consider your target consumer to be the same in the Japanese market? In terms of age or profession? How do you break down your target consumer?
FW: In Japan, [my customers] are mostly in their early 20s up to their 40s or 50s. It really depends. Some of the designs I have are quite timeless, classic and sophisticated. There are other designs that I carry that are slightly quirky and bit mad, so attractive to a younger generation and people who like quirky and interesting designs and don’t mind actually going on the street wearing mad designs. It’s slightly different, my designs are quite wide-ranging. In Japan, it sells to a quite younger generation to 40s and 50s. In China, I’m anticipating it will be the same, sort of, the young and stylish generation.
But eyewear is interesting because it’s not like clothing or shoes. It’s really what personality you have. Maybe people in their mid 40s or 50s can still get away with wearing some bright color shades, or big frames, so it really depends on people’s tastes.
JD: What’s your most popular design? Do you have one single one that you just find is the one everyone wants?
FW: There are a couple of designs that seem to be selling very well. One of them is called the “Hollywood” — maybe the name is attractive. The other one is “Peony.” Those two shades are my most popular designs.
JD: And those are kind of classic designs?
FW: Yes, quite classic, with round edges. I guess it’s a bit soft, quite feline shaped and soft. Some girls don’t really like square frames, or really round frames, so those are the two frames that are kind of in-between. Very classic.
JD: It seems that the Word-of-Mouth marketing plan you’ve got has worked very well for some companies in China.
FW: Yeah, especially with the Internet and social networks. I think it’s very powerful. I would say that people trust their friends and people that they know when they suggest, “You should go on this site, you should see her glasses.” You trust them, instead of people always being worried when they see television adverts and [the product] looks too good to be true. So for me, word of mouth is has been very good, and it’s actually a really good marketing strategy for smaller brands.
JD: We’re really fascinated with your company because we’ve been closely watching the increasing sophistication of consumers in the biggest cities in China, how many of them are not just plastering themselves in logos anymore.
FW: Absolutely, and in China it’s such a huge population. It’s not even just in China, but in the whole world, you are seeing people react against over-produced and over-manufactured things. They want something that is special, they want something that they know that not that many people out there are wearing.
So it’s always about individuality, and it’s very good to see that craftsmanship and hand-made things are coming back into fashion.