Historically, Puyuan produced some of the best silk in China. Today, it has converted itself into a cashmere fashion destination. known for cashmere. What was once an industry conference is now an international fashion week.
Photo from the Puyuan Fashion Week
By ZHOU Fangying
The modern part of Watertown Puyuan is dotted with billboards, factory signs and wholesaler ads. It looks just like any other industrial city in Zhejiang. But inside the old town, it feels like a different world. Models sashay down cobblestone alleys. Designers mingle in ancient courtyards and villas. Welcome to the newest fashion week in China.
The courtyards and villas speak to the generations of silk wealth. Historically, Puyuan produced some of the most valued silk in China. Today, it is known for cashmere. Since the first factory – which had only three handlooms – opened in 1976, Puyuan has made itself the largest cashmere producer in the country.
Producers and traders have met every year here since 2017, but it is only this year that Puyuan has tried to upgrade what was an industry conference into an international fashion week. It opened with Masha Ma, a young Chinese designer and Paris regular. The show, held in a former Zen Buddhist Temple, featured Ma’s line of high-tech cashmere.
“I think it’s a very interesting approach. We don’t instinctively associate an ancient town with fashion as we do with big cities. But it’s a great opportunity to rethink modernity from the perspective of tradition. And this can generate many possibilities,” Ma told Jiemian News.
Several Shanghai regulars made an appearance. But unlike in Shanghai, Puyuan doesn’t have showrooms where buyers browse racks and place orders with labels. Deals are made mostly between manufacturers and distributors, many traveling across the country to the annual event.
The city has just finished renovating the old town. Becoming a fashion destination was always part of the plan. LI Yong, an organizer, says there’s “nothing fashionable about men doing business in a hotel conference room.” The addition of designers puts Puyuan on the fashion radar.
Puyuan’s cashmere market hit 107 billion yuan (US$16 billion) in 2022 but most sales are domestic. There are only three exporters. Li Yong says Puyuan hopes to attract traders, designers and tourists from around the world. Few Puyuan brands have succeeded, on even within China.
Snaie is one of the local brands that held shows during the week. Founder and chairman XIA Lang started as a contract manufacturer in 1996 and established Snaier twelve years later when he realized he needed his own label. Snaier never took off, despite 700 million yuan spent opening stores around the country.
Xia still makes 80 percent of his revenue from contract manufacturing. One of his biggest challenges is finding people to work for him. “I once hired a marketing guy at 50,000 yuan a month. He left after a few months,” Xia said.
Puyuan is too much of a small town to keep young people with big Shanghai ambitions.
BAO Long, a local official, said hopes Puyuan becomes a weekend getaway for people living in Shanghai and Hangzhou.
The old town has yoga studios, meditation retreats and a theater. It has public space for designers, artists, influencers and tourists to hang out.
“It’s both commercial and cultural, and will generate a great output,” Bao said.