by Henrietta Wang
A landmark legal battle seemed to be in the making as of last week when Beijing resident Mr. Guo Chang began his case to sue all the clothes shops of Beijing as a group entity. Henrietta Wang was stumbling around lost near the courthouse when she noticed Mr Guo arriving; what started as a simple conversation about directions developed into this massive news bulk:
Dongcheng resident Mr Guo Chang, 34 has been causing quite a stir amongst Beijing's clothes retailers over the last few days. Guo, an IT maintenance engineer with a degree in Textile Waterproofing, explains that the trouble began "less than a moon ago" right here in Beijing.
"Having been cooped up like a battery hen in the office on several major projects over the last few months, I had been thinking that it was high time to get some spring clothes into my collection. A free weekend delivered just such an opportunity and I set off on taxi, bus car and underground early on Saturday morning." Having arrived at a fashionable shopping street, Mr Guo felt "confident and a little excited" at the prospect of a brand new wardrobe, and at the expected endorphin rush felt by shoppers as they spend their money.
What initially promised to be a delightful session of boutiques, stores, fitting rooms and browsing soon turned into disappointing waste of time. Who better to explain the problem than Mr Guo himself:
"Soon after arriving I spotted a store that looked wonderful. Its fashionably minimalistic logo and sign suggested a hot-spot of cool, they had obviously put in a lot of thought there. The name in both Chinese and English also pointed to an international treat - perhaps on a par with a boutique in Milan or Paris."
Hurrying past a disorderly bus-stop crowd, Guo rushed into the store to find that appearances can be cruelly deceiving. "Inside I was shocked to find the same sort of mass produced in a Wuhan factory pap (la ji) as you run across in the clothing sections of supermarkets or department stores here." Mr Guo stayed only for seconds. "Realising I'd been had, I left without even fingering the mustard brown coloured polo shirts or examining the badly dressed mannequins that were scattered around amongst belts and wallets displayed in glass cabinets like so many unoccupied shop assistants."
Deciding to watch where the young shoppers were heading, Guo soon found himself at a line of shops - Robin Hood, Giordano, Baleno, Bossini, Jack Jones (the list goes on). He entered the first, and found the clothing utterly uninspiring (pingfan de), a mundane selection of pastel and plain coloured jeans, jumpers and t-shirts with repetitive logos and cuts that were "outrageously standard". Occasionally someone had "gone to the effort to make a mannequin look cool, by tying a jumper at the waist or opening up the one patterned shirt in the collection and placing a t-shirt underneath... at one store they had even added sunglasses!"
Unfortunately for Mr Guo, the other shops failed to deliver much variety. Each as disappointing as the last. "I couldn't believe that these shops thought that their tiny logos made the clothes any different from the other shops, and yet they all seemed to be busy. I felt insulted."
Mr Guo's lawsuit aims to tackle these stores as a single entity, despite their being no legal precedent or basis for this definition. "The outside of these shops - including the names and logos - were simply writing cheques that the stock couldn't cash. They deceived me, they wasted my time - and I don't get many weekends off work!"