Expert Interview: Nels Frye of stylites.net on Brand Collaboration

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Nels Frye, founder of Stylites, is an independent consultant focused on Chinese fashion and lifestyles and also founded the Pawnstar, China’s first major secondhand platform.

We recently asked Nels about his passion for Chinese street style and how he was able to grow his website and personal brand by collaborating with businesses. Here’s what he had to say:

Tell us about Stylites.net. What inspired you to start your site?

Stylites was the earliest English language blog to focus on Chinese fashion. It did this as a street style blog and received a good deal of publicity from 2007-2010. Stylites documented the blossoming of self-expression in contemporary China, providing a pictorial record of the most fascinating pedestrians in Beijing at the start of the 21st century, the moment when China had risen with its new greatness apparent to all.

These days, however, Stylites has gone back to being a blog that records the various activities and projects I do, including those for clients like the Four Seasons Hotel Beijing and my own business, Pawnstar, China’s leading secondhand platform.

How did you become so passionate about street style in China? How does it inspire you?

Walking down Changan Avenue one night in 2007, I saw an unusual hobo whose face and manner somehow reminded me of Christ. He had a mustache, a staff, Adidas-like trainers, and a checked wool coat. I took a snap of this odd fellow and put it on Stylites, then my blog for random, often morbid, reflections.

Gradually, I started taking more photos of unusual types. Local magazines noticed and began carrying the pictures. Stylites quickly moved in the direction of street fashion.

The photos on Stylites show the world I sought to inhabit while living in Beijing and gives a glimpse – just a surface look really – at the worlds of my subjects. While this is reality, it also is very much my dream of the world around me. Those appearing on my blog are a very small percentage of the residents of Beijing and they are hardly typical. They really represent an alternative sort of word from the conventional one. I always saw them as trying to escape and get beyond their reality by adopting more unique modes of personal expression. This, however, was very much my fantasy of my subjects.

What types of brand collaboration have you done in your work as a blogger and consultant?

I’ve worked with quite a few different clients including restaurants and hotels and fashion brands. One of the most interesting projects I did was with Lacoste, in 2010. We came up with a collaboration with the artist Li Xiaofeng that led to his building the most valuable polo shirt in the world – out of porcelain shards. Some of the clients that I’ve had include the Four Seasons Hotel Beijing, American Rag Cie, The HUB and others.

What do you like about collaborating with brands?

The benefits are obviously the publicity and, within that, gaining a bigger platform with more funding and/or other advantages such as space to use. There’s also the prestige that allows for conversations with people who otherwise might not have been as eager to discuss working together.

What would you love to change about brand collaboration?

Well, I would love it if more of these collaborations had a purpose beyond simply generating new content, almost for its own sake or for the sake of social media. I wish that brands could work with people who have significant ideas – perhaps more intellectuals and academics – rather than KOLs and bloggers, who really are just about self-promotion.

There should be more collaborations that have a real social purpose, especially toward sustainability since the environment is the area in which the fashion industry is most damaging. Fashion is not beneficial in any way when it simply tells people “here’s a new style that looks cool”. It only helps when it can push ideas. I’m sorry to say but the clothes don’t actually matter – in fact, far worse than not mattering, they tend to be rather polluting.

What types of brands appeal to you the most when considering collaborations?

To be frank, any kind of collaboration that I have worked on has really been determined by being in the right place and time. I also believe it is more or less the same for most people. There’s a certain serendipity that doesn’t really have to do with which brand is appealing but probably has more to do with the specific personalities involved and whether or not they gel together. In an ideal world, I would want to work with brands that prioritize sustainability or quality rather than trends.

How has collaborating with brands allowed you to extend your influence and grow your own personal brand?

It has quite a bit. Would this interview have happened without it? They lend a credibility and allow for a confidence that may not have otherwise existed.

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Bianca Beckbissinger
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Bianca Beckbissinger

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