Photo: Michael Chen, founder of Cape Robbin | Courtesy Photo

Michael Chen Is Building A More Affordable and Inclusive Fashion World

As fashion startups face economic headwinds, technology shifts, and an evolving competitive landscape, Cape Robbin doubles down on affordability and inclusivity.

Fashion-forward consumers are eager to stay on top of fashion’s lightning-fast trend cycle, but they often face two challenges: the size of their closets and the balance of their bank accounts.

While fashion manufacturers and retailers can’t do much about closet space, they can certainly address affordability and empower mainstream consumers to purchase new collections and lines at an affordable price.


Fashion isn’t an exclusive club – everyone’s invited

Los Angeles-based entrepreneur Michael Chen, founder of Cape Robbin, is on a mission to empower consumers through personalization, affordability, and inclusivity. “Affordable fashion isn’t just about cheap prices; it’s about inclusivity,” Chen says. When brands offer stylish options at prices that won’t break the bank, they break down barriers. Fashion isn’t an exclusive club anymore; it’s a party where everyone’s invited.

“It empowers individuals to experiment with their style without worrying about buyer’s guilt,” he adds. By offering customization, affordable fashion brands encourage enthusiasts to be creative, mix and match and try new looks without stressing about their budget.

Michael Chen founded and nurtured three startups to industry prominence, and as a result, the serial entrepreneur learned to identify opportunities and foster innovation. He has applied his proven success formula to Cape Robbin, a women’s fashion footwear and accessories brand that offers a wide range of products, including shoes, boots, sandals, handbags, and more.

“My journey began in China, but it was in South Africa where I supported my family’s endeavors, learning valuable lessons in entrepreneurship from a young age,” Chen recalls.

While attending business school, the young entrepreneur made a bold choice to dedicate himself to Cape Robbin, while pursuing further education at Harvard Business School to hone his skills.

At 21, Chen launched the women’s fashion footwear and accessories brand. Under his leadership, Cape Robbin grew to serve 5,000 retailers nationwide. “Our success, powered by innovation and adaptable business models, humbles me,” Chen explains.

While affordable fashion often denotes a sacrifice in quality, according to Chen, that’s the wrong approach. “Making fashion more accessible isn’t about reducing quality. It’s about making your production process more efficient.”

Chen leverages technology, specifically AI, to boost productivity and cut costs at Cape Robbin. The brand also uses digital platforms like TikTok for cost-effective social media marketing campaigns. Through an emphasis on responsible sourcing, the brand delivers enhanced sustainability, which ultimately makes Cape Robbin products more affordable and accessible.


The intersection of affordability and brand storytelling

Chen’s approach to accessible affordability in fashion is also at pace with consumer purchasing behaviors. According to a McKinsey & Company US Consumer Pulse survey, The State of Fashion 2023, “US consumers are trading down to lower-priced brands and products across income groups and generations.”

Among premium brands, “value-conscious consumers are trading down into value, off-price and private label brands… as consumers trade down, the value segment may benefit.”

Meanwhile, evidence of consumers shopping for accessible luxury is mounting as “some entry-level luxury consumers are trading down to more affordable brands that still have high-end brand storytelling and aesthetics.”

The Cape Robbin brand story embodies the vibrant tapestry of South Africa’s rich heritage, culture, and resilient spirit. The brand name pays homage to two integral aspects deeply rooted in Michael Chen’s upbringing and the nation’s history.

  • Firstly, “Cape” encapsulates the essence of Cape Town, a city renowned for its breathtaking beauty, cultural diversity, and creative energy. For Chen, Cape Town’s scenic landscapes and diverse communities, serve as a wellspring of inspiration for Cape Robbin’s commitment to creativity and inclusivity.
  • Secondly, “Robbin” draws from Robben Island, a historically significant symbol of struggle and triumph, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated. For Michael, Mandela’s story serves as a guiding light, instilling in the brand the belief that dreams can withstand adversity and flourish against all odds.

These consumer shifts position brands like Cape Robbin to challenge the misconception that quality and style come with a hefty price tag. Fashion brands can prioritize quality while ensuring their products are both stylish and affordable.

For Chen, the impact of affordable fashion goes beyond the individual; it ripples through society to foster a sense of belonging, and create a community where style is celebrated in all its forms.

Affordable fashion is a force for inclusivity, a tool for self-expression, and an industry revolution. So, the next time you snag a stylish find that’s light on the wallet, remember – you’re not just buying clothes – you’re building a more inclusive and accessible fashion world.


© YFS Magazine. All Rights Reserved. Copying prohibited. All material is protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this material is prohibited. Sharing of this material under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International terms, listed here, is permitted.


In this article