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Monday, April 9, 2012

Our Final Day In China

As our trip comes to a close we all begin to reflect back on everything we have learned and experienced. This was truly the trip of a lifetime and many of the things we experienced will be those we all hold with us for the rest of our lives. Entering the Chinese culture from the American lifestyle was exciting and scary to all of us who have never been here before. As the trip reaches its last day we chose to take a look back at the differences in culture and lifestyle that we noticed in China, and all the cities we were so fortunate to be able to visit and explore.

China compared to the United States:

Many of the cultural differences we noticed were larger than the cities we were in and really encompassed the country as a whole. One of the very first things we noticed that was different from China and the USA was the traffic and use if cars. In the United States we see traffic laws and lanes that are obeyed strictly and intensely, however, in China that is not the case. This was apparent from the second we got off the plane, and throughout our whole trip. Every driver is very aggressive, and if you need to get somewhere you need to play the offensive side. Which, when you are in a big bus on a small road can be a scary thing to witness.


Beijing

Beijing was the first city we went to and many of the cultural norms in Asia hit us here. If you ask any of the students on what was the biggest shocker, you will most likely get an answer about the bathrooms. This was one huge difference to the United States. In the US we have many public bathrooms, that all contain flushing toilet. In Beijing and China in general, they don’t have as many public bathrooms, or flushing toilets in general. Many of us had to get use to the “squatting” lifestyle pretty quickly. Along with this we immersed ourselves in the local cuisine very early on. Traditional Chinese food was nothing we were use to from the states. We were treated amazing with extensive multi-course dinners, all of which sampled the local cuisine. Most of which was not the food we were use to and took some adventure to try. Along with this we learned quickly that the water was not the safest to drink and it was important to drink only bottled water, something we all were not use to from the states.

Shanghai

We took a bullet train to Shanghai which went to speeds up to 200 km/h yet felt like we were moving about 60. In Shanghai we noticed many of the things we saw in Beijing. One of the biggest things that stood out about their culture was how dispersed their social classes were. We would go from slums to high rises on the next block. It really made your realize the discrepancy among wealth and truly be thankful for what we had. In Shanghai we were fortunate enough to be able to visit some factories and be able to see where many of the clothes we wear every day was made. It was interesting to see worker come from all over to work in these factories to make enough money to bring back for their family. It was definitely not something we see in the states. This really made all of us think twice before we buy something, or get angry when something we want is a little too expensive.

Hong Kong

One of the biggest differences in Hong Kong was the landscape. Overall from the second we got off the plane the terrain was very mountainous and exotic looking. Another thing we noticed was how the cars were all driving on the left side of the road. This was something that took some getting use to. Hong Kong is an Island so naturally waters surrounded it, but that offset by the mountains made it a very resort like setting. Many people from all over the world vacation here and because of its location geographically it is situated in close proximity to India, therefore we saw many of the vacationers or visitors like ourselves be from India. Overall Hong Kong was one of the biggest well-lit cities we had scene. On the boat cruise we took, the sky line lit up to the point where we had to ask ourselves, our we in China or New York?


Overall this was an experience of a lifetime. We all want to thank Kohl’s and Li & Fung for providing this opportunity. All of the people we met and things we experience along the way are things we will never forget. From learning the culture of another country to seeing where many of the clothes and products we wear and use on a daily basis come from, our eyes our opened. This once and a lifetime experience and something that words cannot do justice. Thank you to everyone who took part in making this experience beyond amazing.




Lauren, Caroline, Chelsi

Friday, April 6, 2012

Day 8 Part 1 - Thursday, April 5th

Our third day began with a brisk walk to The Hong Kong Polytechnic University where we were greeted by Dr. Chris Lo and Ms. Paulene Hsia. The presentation began with a video showing “A Day in the Life” of a typical PolyU international student. The video showed many similarities between universities in Hong Kong and the United States. The presentation jumped along to an amazing 4D look book, which featured high fashion designs from current and past students. This look book is a tool that is used by the students each year to present their midterm and final collections. This 4D technology is also used by students to present projects for the World Retail Congress competition. In this competition, design schools from across the globe receive a case briefing six months prior to the actual competition where they present their final project.

Dr. Lo advised a group of four students from PolyU throughout the competition and led them to victory in 2011. In this year, the case briefing requested each team to choose a brand from their home country that could be placed in a department store. The PolyU chose to update a traditional Chinese brand with modern concepts from today’s fashion trends. One futuristic example in their marketing strategy was the use of a magic mirror which displayed potential customers in the brand’s clothing as they walked by the store front. Throughout the development of this presentation, the students made use of many different technologies such as state of the art graphic design, exemplifying the uniqueness of a polytechnic university.

Dr. Lo then shared his knowledge regarding the growing China market, especially the e-commerce business. Just like the United States, China has developed their own versions of Groupon and E-bay, as well as social networking sites. They even have a search engine more popular than Google known as Baidu, whose network of users is greater than the population of the United States!

Next, we were given a tour of the Institute of Textiles and Clothing or ITC as it is most commonly known. With access to high tech sewing, surging and weaving machines, the students are able to create extravagant pieces. Since the students have 24 hour access to studios with dress forms and large cutting tables, the collections produced demonstrate a high fashion aesthetic.


After the presentation and tour we ate lunch at a Dim Sum restaurant on campus where we shared traditional Chinese cuisine that rotated around the table on a Lazy Susan. This manner of eating meals is a prime of example of the Chinese collective culture, which differs greatly from our American individualistic tendencies. This is a common thread we noticed throughout all three cities that we have visited.

Afterward, we visited a factory where Timberland, Abercrombie & Fitch, and American Eagle denim is produced. We were given a tour highlighting the different steps of the process from taking the yarn and establishing a wash to the shipping of the denim to factories in China where jeans are assembled. The factory featured twelve different types of denim, which are created on 144 machines throughout the facility by 300 employees. One of the greatest insights into the denim creation is the use of different threading methods to create the fabric. It was an eye-opening experience to see where and how the denim that we wear every day is produced.



Today was a day that was full of cultural and educational experiences that helped us sew together the seams of presentations and tours we have seen on this trip.

Day 5- April 2

We started our day with a nice drive to Tongxiong city. The scenic drive allowed us to observe the different styles of living throughout the city, suburbs, and rural countryside.

At Artwell Cashmere Factory
 Our first destination was Artwell, a cashmere apparel factory. There we were given a little taste of home - McDonald's! It was extremely generous and accommodating. The full vertical factory began with the raw material (imported from cashmere goats in Mongolia) and ended with packaging the finished garments. Students were impressed with how clean, well lit, and well ventilated the factory was - what great working conditions! Kohl's makes up 12% of Artwell's capacity which equates to 400,000 units per year. This could be expanding since Artwell is doubling the size of its manufacturing capacity within the next month. One great surprise was seeing Burberry sweaters being produced!


After the Artwell factory, we boarded the bus and headed to another factory, Shinsun (Jiaxing Pengchao) Garment Co., LTD. We were greeted by the CEO of Operations, Benjamin, explaining that it was the company's job to make Kohl's look like heroes. Benjamin was part of the family that owned the factory, which we found was very common in China. Family ties are extremely important and Shinsun had relationships with fabric mills that were over 30 years old. We learned about the entire process from fabric and material selection to final quality inspection. The students were able to see first-hand how Kohl's and Li&Fung work with suppliers to produce high quality goods at a great value in a short time period. We are all very excited to see the products from the lines in Kohl's stores within the next few months.

Production of Kohl's garments
Finished LC button-down tops
 Today was a great way for all of our majors, from Design to Marketing, to see real world applications of what we have learned in the classroom. We saw the importance of quality control and we could see the respect the suppliers had for Kohl's throughout the various aspects of the day. Our factory tours gave us a new perspective and we could not have been able to see this without Kohl's great partnership with Li&Fung and its suppliers. The students were definitely looking forward to the tours today and our expectations were, once again, surpassed from an educational, social, and cultural point of view. Thank you so much Kohl's! It was a day we will not soon forget!
At the Shinsun Factory

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Day 8 Part 2 - Thursday, April 5

The second half of our third day in Hong Kong featured a visit to the L plus H Fashion Limited Company. The company COO Ada Ho greeted us at the door and shared the background of her unique company that stared in July 2009. She describes her company as a social enterprise to create job opportunities for middle aged workers who previously were out of work as a result of factories leaving Hong Kong. She sought out a long term solution that enabled these employees to build upon previuos work skills and further develop their craft.

The average worker is 45 to 60 years old. A total workforce of about 60 to 70 workers makes 200 pieces per day, with quality that rivals Italian factories but at a lower cost. They buy raw materials and knit the sweaters from there, using high technology such as seamless garment makers and an RFID system that enables management to track who touches each piece. L plus H is the first sweater factory to use this system, which is maintained by a young management team.

Ada believes that a company must 'invest in the future to sustain a competitive advantage.' They are currently investing in digital printing that will help the factory stand out from competitors. After a tour of the small yet clean and organized factory, Ada left us with some insightful advice on leadership that will benefit us all in our future endeavors. One lasting impression of this factory was the very comfortable atmosphere, excellent work conditions, and generally high morale. We all additionally have gained a tremendous amount of respect for the clothes we wear and the vast amount of preparation that goes into making each and every piece of clothing.

After L plus H we 'galloped' over to the Hong Kong Jockey Club on Hong Kong Island for dinner. We were seated in the Racing Club overlooking the entire racetrack. The dinner was graciously hosted by LF USA. Thank you! It was certainly one of the fanciest and most delicious dinners of the trip and of many of our lives. The buffet featured a wide variety of seafood such as escargot, oysters, tuna, salmon, scallops, and sushi, as well as foie gras, fruits, lamb, duck, pigeon, beef tenderloin, and sinfully delectable desserts. It was a wonderful final group dinner to cap off our trip. After the meal we explored the bustling nightlife that Hong Kong has to offer. Everyone explored Lan Kwai Fong, a famous bar and club district where we danced the night away. We are extremely grateful to Kohl's, Li and Fung, our advisors, and everyone who helped organize our journey through China.

Thanks for reading! - Emily, Lizzie, and Kevin.




Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Day 7- Wednesday, April 4th


We began our day at 10am, refreshed and ready to go after a good night’s sleep. Our first stop was Harbour City, a luxury goods shopping center. Many Chinese citizens take the ferry here to shop for luxury brands such as Burberry, Gucci, Fendi, and Prada. We had the great opportunity to stop into Kent & Curwen, a part of the Trinity group that is fully owned and operated by Li & Fung. The store manager has a lot of experience in the luxury goods market and was able to share the current retail climate in Asia, from a Kent & Curwen perspective. With over 20 million tourists visiting per year, Hong Kong is the epicenter of retail growth.

Serving as a complete lifestyle brand, Kent & Curwen currently runs 130 stores in 63 cities, primarily in Asia. The manager further explained the brand’s customer base as a 40-55 year old male shopper, though this is slightly shifting toward a younger demographic. In addition, the manager concluded that Kent & Curwen’s success stems from its authentic history and heritage, which is something no other company can copy. The brand also has a signature look on the inside coat pocket, seen in the picture below. This diagonal pattern further differentiates Kent & Curwen from its competition. 



Next, we took a quick look at another Li & Fung store in Harbour City, Toys R Us. We had the opportunity to explore the newly renovated 37,000 sq ft store. This location specifically was the first Toys R Us store in Hong Kong. After this short visit, we were given two hours to walk around and see the numerous luxury brand stores in the mall.

After our visit to Harbour City, we drove through the hilly island up to the iconic Big Buddha. This 250 ton bronze statue stands on Lantau Island, the biggest island in Hong Kong. We climbed the 268 stairs all the way up to enjoy breathtaking views of the mountain terrain and historical site.



On the way to our last stop, we drove past Jackie Chan’s hillside estate and stopped at Repulse Bay Beach, which means “longevity bay.” We were happily ahead of schedule at this stop because of less traffic on the roads due to Qingming Festival, a public holiday in Hong Kong. An interesting fact about this holiday is that Chinese citizens can now pay to have their ancestors’ graves swept for them, or for an additional $300, the service can include crying!

To end our day, we boarded a buffet-style dinner boat cruise. The cruise included a tour of the harbor and a light show put on by the city’s skyscrapers. This is a daily attraction for both Hong Kong visitors and residents. After our enjoying the endless dessert bar, we ended the night with the chance to show off our dance moves (even including a few of the trip’s advisors). 



Thank you so much to Kohl’s for a well-balanced day of sightseeing around the beautiful islands as well as hands-on learning about Asian retailing and trends!