By  on April 16, 2007

HONG KONG — Mode Lingerie made a splash with its debut Hong Kong show for intimates and swimwear.

"Hong Kong is a strategic place in Asia — very international, easy to reach — driving fashion, industry and distribution investments and innovations," said Marie Laure Bellon Homps, chief executive officer of show organizer Eurovet. "Hong Kong was the obvious place to go on serving the Asian industry and bringing international key players to build partnerships in Asia."

Eurovet also runs Shanghai Mode Lingerie, which was launched in October 2005.

The numbers are compelling for Eurovet and those wanting to do business with China. There are 503 million women in China, where lingerie consumption is growing at an average of 15 percent a year, and some department stores are hitting 35 percent consumption growth, according to information provided by Eurovet.

The two-day Hong Kong show that ended April 4 had 140 exhibitors, qualified by a panel of judges spanning European and Asian brands and producers of lace, fabrics and accessories. There were more than 3,500 visitors during the event.

Establishing a stronger foothold in Asia was a priority for European brands in the private label section of the fair. French lingerie manufacturer Wolf Lingerie Ltd. announced the first day of the trade show that it appointed DKSH to be marketing and retail management consultant for its brand Rosy in Hong Kong and China. The label already features in DKSH's Lingerie Philosophy, a high-end multibrand chain with five shops in Hong Kong.

Rosy's first stand-alone store is to open by the end of the year in Beijing or Shanghai, said Terry Broderick, ceo of Wolf Lingerie Hong Kong. In the meantime, the brand will open in-store shops, said Nelly Ong, vice president of DKSH.

The brand adapts its European designs with an Asian fit, which is available in South Korea and will be in Hong Kong stores in six to eight months, Broderick said. The fit is "selling quite well…[and] gives us a competitive advantage," he said.

Wolf Lingerie and DKSH expect to open 50 points of sale in the next three years in Hong Kong and China. Franchised chains also are an option. With this kind of penetration in Asia, Rosy sales are projected to reach 200,000 units a year, Broderick said. Rosy also is available in Singapore and Taiwan.Daniel Hechter has a different take on Asia. The French brand entered the Taiwan market two years ago, its debut in Asia, said Gabriel Rizkallah, export manager.

"Taiwan is an incredible market," he said. "They…have more of a European mentality."

The brand has since expanded to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Seoul, Guangzhou in China, Malaysia and "a little" in Shanghai, Rizkallah said. It is going the direct route, without using agents or setting up offices, he said. The brand is eager to develop in Japan, South Korea, China and Thailand. The goal is to be in major department stores.

Daniel Hechter doesn't adapt its product, but "sells as is" with the same fit and the same design, Rizkallah said, adding that Asia is starting to adapt to the European mentality and style.

Spain's Giulio also isn't changing its sizing for products sold in Asia. However, Giulio may not be as sensitive since the moderate-price brand's top seller is a fitted boxer for men.

The company's Asia expansion kicked off this year. Giulio is in Japan and South Korea, and has the most points of sale — about 18 — in Japan. A contract with Taiwan was pending for next season, executive Alejandro Payá added, and he also had met with companies from Malaysia and Singapore.

"We are quite happy," he said. "Asia is hungry for a brand like this….They like to feel they are buying European product."

In the next year, there are plans to open an office under the umbrella of a Giulio Asia-Pacific company, he said. An office in Shanghai opened recently, but will probably move to Hong Kong once the company is created, he added.

Still, the company plans to keep working with distributors and retailers. It's faster and easier because they have market knowledge, Payá said. In the next two years, Giulio aims to have as many as 300 points of sale.

Eurovet and Hong Kong Polytechnic University also organized the first International Lingerie Forum, which took place a day before the show, with the theme "Lingerie Education, Innovation and Environment."The Institute of Textiles & Clothing of PolyU's Ace Style Institute of Intimate Apparel is the first lingerie institute in Asia to offer a bachelor's degree in intimate apparel.

Education is a point that Jos Berry, director of Concepts Paris, focused on during her presentation.

"This industry is getting more technical," Berry said. "We can make a bra that makes me dream, but it's not there yet because education isn't grabbing the zeitgeist."

Attracting young talent to be designers is a challenge for the industry, said Harald Hinderberger, head of the production management division for Triumph International Overseas, although he thinks there will be some relief with programs such as the Ace Style Institute.

Companies also need well-established training programs and must collaborate with educational institutions to close the gap between theory and practice, he added.

In terms of inventions and innovations, Japan leads the way on number of patents granted, said Andrew Sia, chairman and ceo of Ace Style Group, followed by the U.S., South Korea and Taiwan. China ranks eighth on the list. "We have a lot to catch up with," Sia said.

Looking at innovation in dollar terms isn't the best way because it isn't a one-time thing, said Annie Wong, president for Mast Industries (Far East), a major supplier to Victoria's Secret.

Japan's Wacoal is one company that innovates based on human science research. An example is the Shakki-to-bra, which supports the rib cage to help women's posture while inhaling. Eighty percent of women who tried the bra said their posture was better, said Makoto Oyama, president and director of Wacoal (Shanghai) Research & Development.

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