On Friday, the brand announced it was making its first foray into the market, with a launch on Alibaba’s Tmall set for early July.
“Everybody is asking, why are you going to China if nobody is going to the beach?” said chief executive officer Paul Kotrba, who had just touched down in Shanghai.
While acknowledging that it “is a challenge” to operate in a country where there isn’t an established sunbathing culture and standards for modesty differ to the West, Kotrba insisted that there was more to Seafolly than barely there bikinis that would appeal.
“We’re not necessarily just a bikini brand, we have other categories. We have full-coverage swimsuits, we have board shorts, we are more a lifestyle brand,” he said.
More than that, he had confidence in the fast-changing tastes of the Chinese. “Chinese consumers are almost leapfrogging other markets to embrace foreign brands and foreign habits,” Kotrba said.
China is the most powerful and fastest-growing swimwear and beach casualwear market in Asia, marking an average annual growth rate of 9.6 percent from 2013 to 2017, according to the company.
That growth is up for grabs, too. In the swimwear segment, Kotrba pointed out there are performance-focused players, fast-fashion labels, and luxury designers, but that the market is lacking “a single stand alone fashion swimwear brand” with an affordable yet premium positioning in high-performance fabrics.
While underwear globally remains flat, and in China foreign brands have stumbled on their entry over fit and modesty preferences, Kotrba thinks those won’t translate to the area Seafolly occupies.
“It is more travel-related from the pool to spa and back again, it’s a broader stage that we’re playing in,” he said. “It’s a beach lifestyle way of living that we communicate. Yes, perhaps lingerie has its challenges, but we don’t necessarily see that attributed to the swimwear business.”
The company already has some experience getting to know the tastes and fit of the Chinese consumer — more than 40 percent of its Singapore business is driven by the Chinese, in addition to the tourists it receives in its home market.
To help expand awareness of the brand, Seafolly is seeking a Chinese brand ambassador who would join models including Gigi Hadid, Miranda Kerr and Jessica Hart. It hopes to reveal a name by January.
Seafolly is sold in more than 2,700 doors in 41 countries. The company also has secondary brand Miléa, and a chain of multibrand swimwear stores in Australia under the Sunburn banner, although the focus on growing internationally remains with Seafolly.
Speaking about the business more globally, Kotrba said he thinks there are three main ways to grow: by geography, channel and category.
“China in terms of geographic expansion is on the top of that list along with Europe and the United States. In terms of channel, we want to be more meaningful on e-commerce like everybody else. We did recently relaunch our Australia, Singapore and U.S. online sites and look to grow with third-party e-commerce platforms. And wholesale will continue to be important to us. We are 55 to 45 wholesale to retail split.”
“There’s category: 55 percent is in swimwear and the rest is resort and swimwear. I think we can be more meaningful on ath-leisure, over swim and outerwear. Men’s could be a product expansion going forward.”
While Kotrba declined to share specific numbers for turnover, he shared they were looking at 10 percent growth going into next year.
“It is a globally growing brand in a globally growing category,” he said.