Fashion maven knits global ambitions

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Xia Hua, chairwoman of Eve Enterprise Group, wants to compete with foreign fashion brands by using Chinese elements.

Xia Hua, chairwoman of Eve Enterprise Group, wants to compete with foreign fashion brands by using Chinese elements. [provided to China Daily] 

Chinese menswear brand aims to push Armani and LV off the rack.

Xia Hua got the chance to speak on behalf of Chinese fashion companies during an international forum on luxury products in Milan, Italy, in 2004. At the time, she recalled, the outside world sneered at this eastern country for its dearth of designer apparel as well as its reputation for dowdy duds.

Facing fashion gurus from big brands such as Hermes and Louis Vuitton, Xia, chairwoman of Beijing-based Eve Enterprise Group, calmly told the gathering a tale from China's most famous classical novel, Dream of the Red Chamber.

Miao Yu, a nun of divine beauty, collected heaven-sent snow from a plum blossom and stored it in a blue pottery jar, which she buried. Five years later, she scooped out the pure water and brewed it to make tea.

"This is our Chinese ancestor's understanding of a luxury life, a pursuit of delicate taste," Xia said.

"To raise our products' value, we cannot rely on aristocratic family lore, since we only established the company in 1994," Xia told China Daily. "What we can depend on is our 5,000-year history."

Her pursuit began with a small booth in Beijing's Xidan shopping area 16 years ago. Now Eve Enterprise Group operates more than 500 franchised stores across China.

Eve now produces four menswear brands and generated 1.3 billion yuan in revenue last year.

"Chinese traditional culture is the core element for us to bank on to compete with international brands, and it is the bedrock of our brand," she said.

Xia put that philosophy in motion in 2006, when the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation was held in Beijing.

Her company made clothes for presidents from dozens of African countries.

She asked workers to carefully stitch dark jade buttons onto the clothes and embroider a famous Song Dynasty painting called Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival inside the clothes. The scene vividly depicted hundreds of little figures.

The garments won the applause of the African dignitaries. Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf even recommended that his relatives and friends order custom-made clothes from Xia's company.

But Xia argues that combining traditional culture into menswear goes well beyond simply embroidering Chinese patterns onto clothing, or having Chinese-style accessories. Contemporary panache must be incorporated into the pieces.

"My group will launch a fashion show in the fourth quarter of this year," she said. "You will see clothes of great fashion. They may have Western styles and popular colors, but deep in their bones, you will discover the soul of China."

The group's Chinese name, Yi Wen, or relying on culture, reflects Xia's blueprint for success, which includes competing with the biggest names in fashion. Xia quit her job as an associate professor at the China University of Political Science and Law in 1994. Her colleagues were astonished by her decision.

The first reaction of Xia's father was that she had made a "mistake" - as in a political maneuver.

When he eventually discovered his daughter's determination to become an entreprerneur rather than a respected teacher, the angry father refused to speak to her for five years.

"My headmaster tried to persuade me to stay, but every road leads to Rome," she said. "I argued airplanes must be faster than a car."

But Xia said the company is setting far more ambitious goals.

"Eve is a dream-driven company," she said. "We want to build top-level menswear brands around the world. I believe a Chinese company can achieve the same reputation as Louis Vuitton or Giorgio Armani."

Xia recalled that 10 years ago, she had seen Ma Yun, the founder of, in a forum. Most in the audience thought the ambitious Ma had a mental problem, or was mad: How could he possibly realize his dreams of creating an Internet empire?

However, more than a decade later, Ma has far exceeded his expectations.

"Eve's dream has just begun," Xia said.

She revealed the company is expected to sign a strategic partnership by the end of the year. Famous companies such as Morgan Stanley and Lenovo Group have expressed an interest in the venture.

"In the next step, we want to acquire international fashion brands," she said. "We hope our partners can offer some help."

The company aims to list its shares publicly within two years.

For now, Xia will work to build up her four brands: Eve De Uomo, Notting Hill, Kevin Kelly and Jaques Pritt.

"One day, Cui Yongyuan, a famous talk show host, joked to me 'Why did you call the brand Notting Hill and not Fragrant Hills (after the Beijing landmark)?' " Xia said and giggled.

"I just hope the name of the brands will be easily accepted by people around the world. Being a Beijing-based international company is our restless pursuit."

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