Global Observer

A crowd-funding site for designers in Asia

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HONG KONG -- A new resource helps indie designers in Asia sell their wares while minimizing risk.

Designs by Jinruei Fan listed on ZaoZao

HONG KONG -- Jinruei Fan, a young Taiwan-based fashion designer, was one of the first people to list several products on ZaoZao.com, a brand new crowd-funding site created for designers in Asia.

After three days, a flowy shirt that features twisted fabric and detailed pleating was fully funded, which meant Fan could start production and ship the orders out to his customers.

“I did not expect that at all, and it was funded very quickly. So I am grateful for that,” he said. The top’s total required funding was $552, which came together as the result of four users pre-ordering it for US$138 each.

Fan had known about crowd-funding and admired Kickstarter, the most prominent crowd-funding site, but he had not looked into using similar services for his products until approached by ZaoZao.

After a meeting with the founders, he was on board. “They are really putting in a lot of effort to bring this crowd-funding system into Asia. It’s only natural for me wanting to be part of it,” he said.

ZaoZao is the brainchild of Vicky Wu and Xiang Ling Cai. The friends came up with the idea by tossing out possibilities for businesses they could start together.

Cai’s sister was a design student who was all too familiar with how hard it is for designers to find a job after graduation. “They usually end up working for a big company and design on the side for fun,” Wu said. They decided that there is an opportunity that would help fashion designers do what they really love.

In January of this year, after a week of intense brainstorming in a coffee shop, they were resolved to quit their jobs. Wu was working for Goldman Sachs, and Cai was a buyer at Gucci.

“We got pretty lucky, because within a week after that, I got an offer from an unexpected angel investor who’s been keeping us running since then,” Wu said.

The site, which launched in late September, is courting designers from all over Asia. Its current listed designers come from places like Singapore and Hong Kong.

ZaoZao takes pride in its careful curation of products. Although anyone could upload their made-to-order items to the site, the listings do not go live until the partners have evaluated them for quality and appropriate pricing, and have chatted with the designers to gauge their legitimacy.

So far, 10 projects have received funding, seven of them fully funded. Right now, the site lists just 26 items, but the team is staying cautious as they work out the kinks. Wu said the site will look completely different soon, in response to the feedback that has been rolling in.

We’ve talked to over 350 designers, so we have a lot of projects coming up. We just haven’t hit the go button yet,” she said. “We want to take things slowly and don’t want things to blow up.”

In addition to clothing, the fledgling company aims to include more accessories like handbags and jewelry, and eventually wants to branch out to include artists like photographers.

Patray Lui, a Hong Kong-based designer who runs a brand called Artessario, also received full funding for one of her handbags. She said ZaoZao is a way for small brands to test the market before investing in a large production of a single item, and the speed at which her products were funded provided an indication of consumers' interest.

"What is fantastic about ZaoZao is they offer us the opportunity to test our design before we have to commit to develop a large size stock," she said.

"It costs a lot of time and money for each product development. Receiving pre-orders in the early phase can minimize our risk in costs."

Fan said the greatest the benefit of crowd-funding the clothing he designs is that it is eco-friendly. The designer compared this method to the more traditional mass production, which is filled with uncertainty about demand, “and a lot of these products will go to waste,” he said.

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Vanessa Ko

Correspondent (Hong Kong)

Vanessa Ko has written for TIME, South China Morning Post and Phnom Penh Post. She holds degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Hong Kong. She is based in Hong Kong, China. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure