Designed in China - coming to a store near you?

Models present creations for Masha Ma in Paris Image copyright AFP
Image caption Chinese designers like Masha Ma are hitting runways around the world

All this month, the BBC is looking at the question of whether China can transform itself from the factory of the world into an innovative centre.

I've been travelling across China to see if it's possible for Made in China to become Designed in China.

Japan made that transformation in 30 years. But there are many more countries that have failed than succeeded.

Innovation, of course, takes on many forms. But, they share one thing in common: talent.

Can China produce the next Steve Jobs, for instance? Will there be innovators that transform the way that we live through their inventions and ingenuity?

The answer to the question of Chinese innovation goes beyond manufacturing and into all areas of society, including the creative industries.

To complicate matters, much of manufacturing is done via global supply chains.

For instance, half of Chinese exports are made by foreign-invested enterprises, so it's multinational companies that are producing in China as well as domestic firms.

Harvard economist Dani Rodrik estimated that the value of Chinese exports suggests that they come from a country with a much higher per capita income. Does that mean that China produces innovative exports or is it a place for global assembly? Evidently, interpretation isn't straightforward.

China's innovation

So, what about the creative industries?

Later this week, Talking Business takes a look at Chinese movies and we meet those who are transforming the film industry and breaking new ground beyond martial arts films.

But, what about design itself?

I caught up with Raphael le Masne de Chermont, executive chairman of Shanghai Tang, during the two weeks of the Shanghai and Beijing Fashion Weeks which aim to showcase Chinese designers.

Shanghai Tang purports to be the first Chinese luxury retailer, founded by Hong Kong entrepreneur Sir David Tang in 1994. Shanghai Tang started out by selling Chinese-themed fashion and home accessories that evoked the 1920s and 1930s.

It was bought in 1998 by Swiss luxury goods company Richemont. Then, in 2001, Mr le Masne de Chermont took the helm and focused on making Shanghai Tang a luxury, lifestyle brand with high-end designs by Chinese fashion designers.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Michelle Obama wears a dress by Chinese designer Jason Wu

When I asked him why there weren't mainland Chinese fashion designers who compete with the likes of Giorgio Armani, he was certain that there would be. He mentioned that there were overseas Chinese designers in France and in the US, such as Jason Wu who came to popular prominence when he designed First Lady Michelle Obama's inaugural gown.

In addition, up and coming Chinese designers such as Masha Ma and Wang Peiyi are among those showcased by Shanghai Tang.

Some of these mainland Chinese designers may soon become better known, as Shanghai Tang re-establishes its global presence.

This is after a period of shutting stores and focusing more on mainland Chinese customers who have quickly emerged as key luxury buyers in the past decade. Mr le Masne de Chermont tells me that half of Shanghai Tang's clients are Chinese, but it is targeting London and Europe next.

The answer to the question of can China innovate won't be answered in a straightforward fashion. But, one thing is clear, Designed in China won't become a reality without the designers.

For more, catch Talking Business with Linda Yueh and the BBC's Designed in China

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