HONG KONG — The inaugural edition of The Hub trade show at AsiaWorld-Expo here last week provided Asian retailers with exposure to about 100 contemporary brands, mostly from Europe and the U.S., and tips for the exhibitors on navigating the escalating costs and operational complexity of launching brands in the region.
With a concentration of labels from outside the region and few from Asia, the show floor stood apart from other apparel fairs in the region. Exhibits had more of a focus on aesthetics and also created a smaller, more intimate environment. Many of the brands featured had little or no distribution in Asia and were hoping to gain a foothold.
Foot traffic at the event, which was held from Aug. 28 to 30, was light. Exhibitors said that, while attendees were fewer than expected, they generally were happy with the "quality" of buyers. Organizers said more than 3,000 Asian buyers and retailers were in attendance.
"Sales in Europe have been slow so we're looking for growth in Asia," said Gonzalo Iraolagoitia, sales manager at Laga, a Spanish women's apparel line currently with distribution primarily in Europe with some in the U.S. and Japan.
The show, which is to be semiannual, was started by Richard Hobbs and Peter Caplowe, two British expatriates living in Hong Kong. The duo have been matching western brands with Asian distributors. Last year, Hobbs and Caplowe started Entrepot Asia, a consulting business to help fashion brands expand in China and Asia.
Even though growth in China has been slowing, "this event is evidence that international brands are not reconsidering their Asian expansion plans but are eager to learn more about the industry and how their brands can be part of it," Hobbs said.
Many exhibitors said they were just testing the waters and learning about the market. For those with more experience in the region, the focus was more on how to expand the brand through standalone shops, multi-brand stores or some combination. Some companies, namely those with more experience in the Asia, discussed the importance of standalone shops to brand-building.
During a presentation, Kaspar Leschly, founder of D:Fuse shoes, a footwear company founded by Norwegian and Danish entrepreneurs that has expanded rapidly in China, emphasized that shop design was extremely important to how Chinese consumers perceive the brand.
"The shop is 50 to 60 percent of branding. Our DNA is evolving," he said, acknowledging that the company is still working on shop design. D:Fuse has had five shop designs in seven years and has not unified the look of its various stores across the country.
Leschly and others discussed how retail marketing costs in China have been rising, nearing rates in Europe. Sam Chan, founder of Outsign Lab, a Hong Kong-based design, advertising and events planning company that works with many clients in mainland China, said it typically sees budgets of about 3000 to 4000 yuan a square meter, or about $45.50 to $60.66 a square foot, for a trendy, mass market brand. By comparison, typical marketing costs in Europe can range from 400 to 500 euros per square meter, or roughly $50 to $61.40 a square foot.
While marketing costs have always been important to upscale and premium brands, marketing has become increasingly crucial to mass market brands in today's China as well. Part of the reason behind this, Chan said, may be the growing importance of digital technology.
"Five to 10 years ago, people always thought that marketing is not accountable but nowadays there's a lot of digital media and it's countable," said Chan, noting that even for brands that have traditionally spent a lot on marketing, the spending is increasingly skewed toward digital and social media.
D:Fuse's Leschly also discussed the challenges of running operations in a large market such as China as well as the importance of volume.
Negotiating with department stores is difficult and brands need leverage, he said, adding that it helps to go in with multiple brands. Also be prepared to deal in volume, he advised.
"In China, because of the department store format, you need to have a full shop. You cannot go in there with 50 SKUs. Generally we needed to have 200 SKUs. The minimum order size was 250 pairs [SKU] because otherwise the factories [in China] won't work with you. That's 50,000 pairs of shoes," he explained.
Some brands with more experience in the region showed off their specialized lines catering to Asian consumers. Barbour, an old British brand best known for its waxed cotton outerwear, developed a line of lighter weight jackets for Asia and expanded the color palette from the usual khaki and browns to include brighter colors such as royal blue. The cut and sizing of the clothing was also adjusted slightly.
Among the other brands represented were Henri Lloyd, Barbour, Y-3 Yohji Yamamoto, Smyth & Gibson, Private White V.C., Joanna Ho, TKees and Sunspel. The emphasis was on quality and exclusivity with much of the merchandise handmade.
@tradesy is turning the concept of a showroom upside down with its new space in Santa Monica. Here, the company plans to hold events, art exhibits and a showcase rare fashion pieces like this Louis Vuitton boxing set. Get all the details on Tradesy’s first showroom on WWD.com. #wwdnews
Spotted last night at the @erdem x @hm launch event: Kate Bosworth, Rashida Jones, Kirsten Dunst and Selma Blair. The party, which took place in LA, also marked the opening of their pop-up shop. “I was interested in creating a collection that wasn’t in any way disposable. It was about pieces you’d create and keep forever, things that have a permanence to it,” designer Erdem Moralioglu said. #wwdeye (📷: Katie Jones)
Renee Zellweger in yellow in 2001 and again in 2017. Chosen as one of the 12 @pantone Leading Spring Colors (and dubbed “Meadowlark”), it only makes sense that the bright hue stands the test of time and is making a resurgence this season, seen already on stars like @blakelively and @gigihadid. (📷: Donato Sardello & @rexfeatures) #wwdfashion #tbt
Dior’s 70th anniversary celebration continues with a new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. “Christian Dior,” which is scheduled to run through March 18, takes a look at the founders tenure from 1947 to 1057 and feature 40 designs. Pictured here is an evening gown from the Ailée, fall 1948-49 haute couture collection. #wwdfashion (📷: Brian Boyle)
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
“These collections continue to build on that vision, empowering differently abled adults to express themselves through fashion,” said @tommyhilfiger of his line of adaptive apparel, which launches today. The line consists of 37 men’s and 34 women’s styles based upon the pieces from the spring Tommy Hilfiger sportswear collection. #wwdnews