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In a land where conspicuous consumption has driven high-end growth for decades, international lingerie brands have faced an uphill battle convincing Chinese consumers it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
“When it comes to people’s spending priorities at the higher end, lingerie is so far down the list compared with the stuff other people can see — bags, accessories and clothing — that it’s just not getting much of a look,” said Mintel Group’s chief China strategist, Paul French, who has been keeping an eye on the lingerie segment since he worked as a consultant for Triumph in the Nineties.
Still, there is evidence that Chinese women are starting to change their mind-sets and embrace the idea of upscale undergarments. China’s intimates market has grown steadily in recent years, thanks to a small but growing niche of lingerie-loving women.
According to London-based Companies and Markets, China’s underwear market at retail grew 13 percent in 2012, faring better in the economic downturn than other categories like outerwear and footwear. This research said the market is expected to increase in size, registering a compound annual growth rate (at constant value) of 10 percent through 2017.
By 2016, Mintel Group expects lingerie sales at retail to reach 143.77 billion yuan, or $23.4 billion, in Mainland China.
Triumph was one of the earliest international entries into the Chinese market and is often held up as a model for international success in China. According to a report published by Chinese researchers Forward Intelligence, Triumph generates turnover of more than a billion yuan, or $162.66 million, annually in China, though it still lags behind major local players like Aimer, Gujin and Maniform in terms of market share.
“The high-end lingerie segment is still a very niche-oriented market at the moment. However, with the increasing purchasing power and the will to create entire lifestyle products, it is a developing segment,” said Jennie Amardeil, Asia director for Paris-based bra brand Simone Pérèle.
French of Mintel agreed, explaining that the keys to a successful China marketing strategy for international lingerie brands will involve being sensitive to cultural influences.