By  on April 20, 2007

HONG KONG — After exports of women's underwear from China hit $2 billion between January and August last year, an 80 percent jump from 2005, trade show producer Global Sources aimed to tap that market with a new exhibit.

Sarah Benecke, executive director of Global Sources, said the company tested an underwear and swimwear pavilion during its China Sourcing Fair: Fashion Accessories show in October, which made it clear the pavilion could expand to become a show unto itself.

China Sourcing Fair: Underwear & Swimwear ran concurrently with its Fashion Accessories sibling for four days, ending Sunday at the Asia-World Expo. Underwear & Swimwear had 180 booths, making it the largest show of its kind in the city, and Fashion Accessories had 690 exhibitors. The two shows attracted 13,717 buyers from 108 countries.

China Sourcing Fair: Underwear & Swimwear has joined Eurovet's Mode Lingerie, which launched in Hong Kong last month, as the only games in town for these categories. There seems to be room for both players when considering industry figures: China produces 60 percent of the world's sleepwear, and in 2005, 10,000 exporters shipped $1.6 billion of sleepwear, according to Global Sources. China is the world's largest exporter of swimwear, with 70 percent of the world market.

"You can see why we're interested in this category," Benecke said.

The October show, from Oct. 12 to 15 at Asia-World Expo, will continue to expand with exercise wear, yoga garments and hosiery.

The Fashion Accessories show celebrated its first anniversary. The highlight was handbags, but the event also featured hats, caps, belts, scarves, shawls and fashion jewelry, one of the fastest-growing categories, Benecke said.

At more than 690 exhibitors, the show has grown 38 percent. China booths saw a 33 percent increase, while booths from Hong Kong jumped 35 percent. Exhibitors also came from Taiwan, Vietnam, India and the Philippines. Buyers ranged from Gap and Wal-Mart to Marks & Spencer and Louis Vuitton.

Although China is a top sourcing destination for the world's buyers, more time will be needed for foreign brands to switch their sights to the domestic market, exhibitors said.Joann Tsang, a general clerk from Hong Kong's Lee Fung Bra-Sets Garment Ltd., said Chinese clients aren't ready for the company's product — it exports for companies such as Tesco and Hennes & Mauritz — because they're buying cheaper goods that aren't high quality.

Even if buyers from China stopped at the booth, Tsang said they were wholesalers or looking for small quantities, which doesn't equal good business.

"A big order from the Chinese is a dream," she said.

The consensus from vendors was that China could be ready to do domestic business in about five years.

Ada Chow, senior merchandiser for Hong Kong lingerie firm Kam Tak (Sexy Feel) Trading, said even though her firm's goods are too expensive for the Chinese, they try to negotiate a lower price.

Kevin Sze, director of Hong Kong's Young Line Handbag, has a wholesale business in China, but mostly exports to America, Europe and Japan. Urban Outfitters is among its clients.

"We are not very concerned about the customer in China," he said. "We don't know if they're a real customer or here to copy."

Sze said there are two businesses in China: Branded business and mass market products. Branded lines are a good business because they set themselves apart from places such as street markets, he said. However, Young Line's products aren't cheap enough for the Chinese brands to afford yet.

Nevertheless, Global Sources is organizing a new Shanghai show for fashion accessories, and infants' and children's products that focuses on the domestic market. The shows will run from June 18 to 21 at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre.

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