New York Fashion Week has a controversial new sponsor: Tmall. As confirmed by Alibaba on Wednesday, Tmall has become an "official partner" of New York Fashion Week: The Shows, in association with Suntchi, "to help U.S. designers and brands leverage Alibaba’s scale and technology to reach the China market for the first time."
While this may be a questionable move, it is not necessarily a surprising one, as the Jack Ma-onwed platform – the largest online retail site in China – has been courting an array of fashion companies in recent years, and brands like Burberry, Estee Lauder, Coach, and Benefit Cosmetics, a subsidiary of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, have opened up (and in some cases, subsequently closed) virtual storefronts on the site.
A Global Fashion Collaboration
As part of the collaboration, Alibaba has selected designers from NYFW to be featured in Tmall’s 2017 second-annual "See Now-Buy Now" fashion show, which is slated to take place in October in the run-up to Alibaba’s Single's Day Global Shopping Festival, the biggest shopping day in the world. By collaborating with Alibaba, leading U.S. designers - including Opening Ceremony and Robert Geller - "will gain first-time exposure to the more than half a billion consumers visiting Alibaba’s platforms," according to the company.
“We are thrilled to support NYFW to bring U.S. brands and retailers the ability to reach the ever-growing Chinese consumer base,” said Michael Evans, Alibaba Group President. “Alibaba’s scale, technology and deep consumer insight provides brands and designers with truly unique offerings to engage with consumers in the world’s largest market in new and innovative ways.”
"We started Opening Ceremony 15 years ago, inspired by a trip we took to Hong Kong. With family roots grounded in China, it is so exciting to partner with such an impactful company like Alibaba to share our story and expand our global footprint," said Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, founders of Opening Ceremony.
“We are excited to start building our brand in China, and tailoring our shopping experience using Alibaba’s innovative technology to make our brand more accessible to the growing base of Chinese consumers, which is critical to our global expansion,” said designer Robert Geller.
"In an effort to encourage cross-cultural exchange between the U.S. and China," the partnership will also entail NYFW: China Day, "a unique event featuring leading Chinese designers selected from the Tmall 2017 ‘see-now buy-now’ fashion show, during NYFW: The Shows in September 2018."
The sponsorship will certainly raise eyebrows, as Tmall’s parent, Alibaba, has consistently come under fire in recent years, in particular, for its failure to cut down on the rampant sales of counterfeit goods on its platforms. In the past several years, alone, Alibaba has faced scrutiny from no shortage of fashion brands.
It has been on the receiving end of lawsuits from conglomerate, Kering, and individual Alibaba sellers have been named in lawsuits filed by Louis Vuitton and other brands. Gucci, YSL, and Balenciaga’s parent company, Kering, filed against Alibaba in May 2015 (its second suit against the Chinese giant), claiming, “The Alibaba defendants facilitate and encourage the sale of an enormous number of counterfeit products through their self-described ‘ecosystem,’ which provides manufacturers, sellers, and buyers of counterfeit goods with a marketplace for such goods, and provides online marketing, credit card processing, financing, and shipping services that effectuate the sale of the counterfeit products.”
As of last month, the parties officially settled that suit out of court and agreed to work together to cut down on counterfeits.
Alibaba has not been welcomed with open arms by many American brands, including some major NYFW participants, which makes its sponsorship somewhat surprising. For instance, Alibaba caused controversy when it was granted inclusion in the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition, a non-profit organization devoted solely to combating product counterfeiting and piracy. In response to its membership, a number of existing members, such as Gucci, Tiffany & Co., and Michael Kors, withdrew from the organization, and board members received an anonymous email threatening a mass defection unless Alibaba was pushed out; within a week of the Chinese company’s inclusion, its membership was suspended by the group.
Additionally, Alibaba has been consistently called out by name by the Office of the United States Trade Representative on its “Special 301” Out-of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets list, an annual report that details the entities that are most egregiously abusing the intellectual property rights of U.S. entities.
All the while, Alibaba has been making public its efforts to clean up its act. Early this year, the Chinese giant announced that it would work with brands including Louis Vuitton, Swarovski, and Samsung to crack down on counterfeit goods on its e-commerce platforms, as part of an alliance with 20 brands, trade associations, intellectual property experts and regulators.
Alibaba has also made it known - via its own news site - that it has filed two suits against individual sellers on its marketplace for selling counterfeit goods, as part of what it is calling a broader crackdown on fakes sold on its platforms.
* The Council of Fashion Designers of America did not respond to a request for comment.