A look from Australian label Aje, part of the lineup of new Australian e-commerce startup Showroom-X.

SYDNEY Australian retailer Richard Poulson is betting on China as a lifeline for Australia’s COVID-19-battered fashion sector.

On Friday, Perth-based Poulson, cofounder of the 10-unit Australian fashion chain Morrison, will hit the live button on his new Australian- and New Zealand-focused e-commerce startup Showroom-X, which he believes has the potential to generate 50 million Australian dollars, or $36 million, in sales within five years.

Aimed squarely at the Chinese market, showroom-X.com, which is in English and Mandarin, will be promoted via WeChat, Weibo, Chinese key opinion leaders and Western influencers, notably from Australia’s large Chinese community.

More than 1.2 million people living in Australia boast Chinese ancestry, or 5 percent of the population. They include a growing cohort of high-net-worth individuals. According to Australian government figures, in the eight years since the launch of the Significant Investor Visa — which offers a pathway to permanent residency for those investing 5 million Australian dollars, or $4 million, in Australian investments — mainland Chinese accounted for 85.2 percent of the total visas granted.

“The strategy, from our discussions with our advisers is to engage our local Chinese communities and they will then seed back to mainland China and create the awareness for us. That is how we’re actually rolling it out,” said Poulson, Showroom-X chief executive officer.

“It’s really about championing the Australian lifestyle and everything that goes with that,” said Kelly Atkinson, Showroom-X creative director. “We’re using our research into what resonates with the Chinese consumer and we’ve built a web site that is still authentic to us, but speaks to them on the level of what our lifestyle is, our versatility in our clothing, our style in general. Australians have a very relaxed sense of style, it comes across in almost everything we do but I think fashion is a really good way to express that.”

At launch, the site will offer 35 brands, 80 percent of them fashion. They include Australia’s Ellery, Esse Studios, Ten Pieces, Lee Mathews, Aje, KitX, Bassike, Christopher Esber, Matteau, Romance Was Born, Dinosaur Designs, RM Williams and cult Melbourne brand Scanlan Theodore, for which Showroom-X will be the only global wholesale stockist. There is also New Zealand’s Paris Georgia, with more Kiwi brands to follow.

Beauty names include perfumes by Naomi Goodsir and Váhy; skin-care brands The Travelista, The Secret and Rohr Remedy, and The Kind Sunscreen.

The site will also sell the work of 20 Australian artists via an arrangement with Sydney gallery Saint Cloche.

The project has been in development for 18 months, with Poulson working with Shanghai-based Alan Peng, a former consultant to L Catterton on its Australian assets Seafolly and 2XU.

Kelly Atkinson and Richard Poulson, creative director and chief executive officer of Showroom-X 

According to the International Post Corporation Cross-Border E-commerce Shopper Survey 2019, clothing and footwear and health and beauty were the two most popular categories for international shoppers buying from Australia, accounting for 37 percent and 30 percent of purchases, respectively. China is Australia’s third largest e-commerce market after New Zealand and India, accounting for 15 percent of online purchases.

“We’re not going to be fleshing it out to have 2,000 brands,” said Poulson. “This will be very much about the very best of Australia and the plan is that once we get the entry strategy and pipeline right, then we can do Showroom-X Scandinavia and bring the best of Scandinavian brands to China. This is the grand plan, to bring European brands [to China] that are not necessarily high street names, but the cool brands.”

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