By  on October 28, 2013

SHANGHAI — Joint trade fairs Interfilière Shanghai and Shanghai Mode Lingerie hit China’s financial capital last week.

Thousands of buyers seeking connections with Chinese suppliers, as well as a few dozen European brands looking to access China’s still-underdeveloped lingerie and swimwear sectors, poured into the Shanghai Exhibition Center over the two-day fairs.

More than 300 exhibitors were on hand for the shows, which included trend and branding seminars, fashion shows and a hosiery conference.

The Shanghai Mode Lingerie fair experimented this year with a split format, with 35 European brands exhibiting in a special roped-off “business club lounge,” only accessible to major buyers.

According to Marie-Dominique de Fondaumiere, exhibition director for show organizer Eurovet, this system was in place partly to assure the brands’ intellectual property could be more easily secured, and was also designed to facilitate business.

“We wanted to make sure that companies who are here to find partners are not bothered by people who aren’t serious buyers. It makes the business more focused,” she said.

Recent research released by Companies & Markets shows that China’s underwear, nightwear and swimwear sector added 13 percent to its total value in 2012, reaching 217.3 billion yuan, or $35.7 billion at current exchange.

The report goes on to predict a compound annual growth rate of 10 percent in constant value terms over the next few years, with sales projected to reach 344 billion yuan, or $56.6 billion, in 2017.

Though the mid- to high-end lingerie market in China is still relatively small, Taya de Reyniès, director of lingerie and swimwear for Eurovet, believes there are an increasing number of women in the country who are making the move from functional to fashionable intimates.

“There is a market for European brands, but it’s not as big because lingerie is worn on the inside of clothes. It will take more time to develop than other European-made items. The Chinese woman right now is very focused on fashion and showing the brands she is wearing,” explained de Reyniès.

She further noted, “There is a lot of room for European brands to grow in this market, and it’s just the beginning. Now there is a growing middle class in China, and that means more potential.”

Keen to push the association of lingerie as fashionable, the fairs also partnered with Shanghai Fashion Week, which featured several catwalk shows.

While de Reyniès said Chinese women are becoming more fashion-focused in their lingerie tastes, she sees the biggest growth in China coming from shapewear, which appeals to the pragmatic approach Chinese customers have regarding their undergarments.

As for swimwear in a country where women are traditionally averse to both sun and surf, de Reyniès is also optimistic.

“We can’t say swimwear is developing very fast, but I think there is a market for swimwear. Chinese women are very fashionable, and there will be more opportunities for them to go to private pool parties and travel overseas more often. So I think it will change in the next 10 to 20 years,” she said.

Melissa Odabash, who was exhibiting her swimwear label at the lingerie fair, found Chinese buyers were very receptive to high-end swimwear.

“They’re all wanting to buy, but the problem is they all want exclusivity. They know I’m high-end and they want that, so there is no resistance on price,” she said.

Moving away from the rarefied air of the fair’s international lineup of intimates brands and into the bustling Interfilière Shanghai show were hundreds of suppliers from China and other Asian countries, who presented their fabrics and laces to buyers from around the world.

“We have all the big buying offices — H&M, Victoria’s Secret — all of these people coming here to buy,” stated de Fondaumiere. “It’s what we call an international sourcing platform, and we are now bringing in new countries like Indonesia and Vietnam. We keep aware of the evolutions in manufacturing to really bring forward what the industry needs.”

Among the buyers at the fabric show was Barbara Cerny, a buyer for Wolf Lingerie, who was sourcing for innovative fiber and fabrics for the brand’s spring 2015 collection.

“We now work with Chinese suppliers, but the only opportunity to see them is at this fair,” she explained. “We want to take advantage of that. I am also here to meet new suppliers and see the new techniques and what’s happening with trends and the market.”

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