The Chiltern backpack developed on collaboration with Mr. Bags for the romantic festival White Day.

SHANGHAI — White Day, a.k.a. the male version of Valentine’s Day, has become increasingly popular in China, a country inundated with Eastern and Western commercialized, romantic festivals. Celebrated one month after Valentine’s Day, on March 14, the holiday became popular in Japan, before spreading to other East Asian countries, including China. The concept behind the day is that men are repaid by their loved ones for the effort they put into making Valentine’s Day special.

This year, White Day will be celebrated by British luxury men’s wear brand Dunhill and popular Chinese influencer Mr. Bags with a limited-edition collection of 368 pieces, with the edition number etched inside each bag. The number of pieces was chosen by Tao Liang of Mr. Bags as it is a combination of Chinese lucky numbers, as well as his own personal lucky numbers. This is just one example of the attention to detail paid by the online entrepreneur, whose previous luxury bag collaborations have sold out within minutes. “It’s not like we want to use this number to create something lucky. It’s just that I want everything to be perfect,” said Liang.

Liang’s Chiltern drawstring backpack is his first collaboration to focus on a single man’s bag and he is hoping his female followers will be eager to buy it as a gift for their partners for White Day. It will be previewed on Liang’s WeChat store, Baoshop, on Feb. 21. The 368 pieces will only be available to buy in mainland China on Baoshop, from March 3, and selected Dunhill boutiques and Dunhill’s official web site beginning March 6. The bag will retail for 6,850 renminbi, or $1,010.

Liang traveled to London multiple times to work with Dunhill’s creative director, Mark Weston. The Chinese influencer selected the colors and altered details of the bag’s design to make it more functional and attractive to Chinese consumers. The bag is available in one color combination of foggy blue and midnight blue — foggy blue being a term Liang coined in 2014, which became a popular color among his bag fans.

According to Liang, the Dunhill Chiltern drawstring backpack was the bag he used most frequently in 2018, which is how the collaboration transpired. “It’s not like I approached them or they approached me. This conversation happened really naturally. I loved the bag and they really wanted to do something special about it,” he said.

Dunhill’s chief executive officer Andrew Maag agreed that the partnership between the brands happened organically. “Mr. Bags has been part of the family of Dunhill for quite a few seasons. He got very excited when he started to see what we were doing and he actually came to our Paris runway show,” said Maag.

China has always been an important market for Dunhill, with the brand being one of the first British luxury companies to expand into the country decades ago. However, “We did a correction in China about three years ago where we downsized our distribution and contracted all of our franchise partners. We really pulled it into a very strong and small base, and now we are expanding,” said Maag.

Although Japan is still its largest market, as it has been for 50 years, there is much potential in China, according to Maag. “We have such a strong distribution in Japan. Our distribution is double the size of China, so we have such an opportunity in China.”

“I am so excited by [Chinese consumers’] optimism, and their curiosity, and their appreciation of luxury, and their knowledge of quality. They really have discerning tastes. The Chinese consumer outside of China is also hugely important. In the aggregate, Chinese consumers are a huge focus for us. The Chinese market itself will be our fastest-growing footprint and growth and penetration,” said Maag.

Dunhill came under Maag’s stewardship two years ago, and the brand now dedicates more than 70 percent of its marketing budget to digital. “When I started at Dunhill 24 months ago, we put a digital-first strategy in place. Absolutely everything digital first. Everybody has to ask themselves, ‘What have I done for digital today?’ We don’t have a separate department, it is how we live,” he said.

Centralized digital strategies have proven risky for other foreign luxury brands in China, where localized cultural context is not always accounted for. Take, for example, the Dolce and Gabbana scandal of last year, still fresh in the minds of many Chinese netizens. However, collaborating with local experts and local teams to navigate the nuances in China has so far worked in Dunhill’s favor. Maag takes a globalized view when it comes to customer engagement. “We are a British company, we are based in London but we absolutely know that we don’t have the expertise, or the language, or the savoir-faire, so we have what we call trans-creation. We trans-create all of our content in China and we have our team, a small team, on the ground in China who create information. We do the same in Japan and we do the same in the Middle East. We have a global digital view, but we actually create content,” he said.

In October, Dunhill was one of the first luxury brands to launch a boutique on WeChat, realizing how ubiquitous the platform is for Chinese consumers. Allowing the local Dunhill teams a degree of autonomy has proven fruitful for the brand, as it was the Dunhill China team that created the brand’s WeChat boutique platform.

The brand’s penetration on Chinese online social channels does not stop at WeChat, with Maag keen to point out that the brand is present on every available platform through Chinese Key Opinion Leaders and has a strong local following on Dunhill’s official Weibo account.

In terms of moving to other popular native e-commerce platforms in the country, Maag cited the recently announced venture between Dunhill’s parent Compagnie Financière Richemont and Alibaba. “We are thrilled about that, and we are letting them lead the way with that as to how to enter that market. We as a brand are very thrilled to have Mr. Porter as a channel by which again we can reach customers. So, we will be on Mr. Porter, on Alibaba’s network in China,” he said.

When Maag joined the brand, he made no secret of the fact that he intended to reposition Dunhill to attract younger consumers. “We wanted to move away from what was once perceived as a British, nostalgic, historic heritage brand and be very relevant for modern consumers,” he said. In China, much like other key markets around the world, the brand is conveying this message by enlisting and engaging with many young Chinese celebrities and personalities, such as Jing Boran, Wang Yuan, and now the brand’s collaboration with Millennial influencer Liang.

“Key Opinion Leaders have steadily been an important resource and point of reference for many individuals to get information and to feel trusting of their opinions. And more so, some people trust KOLs more than they trust advertising because they are hearing about an individual person that they respect and admire who has a point of view about something,” said Maag.

By engaging with KOLs in China, the British luxury brand has been able to identify new market segments. In this case, Liang is helping the brand communicate with Chinese men who want the chance to be celebrated equally by their loved ones.

“In China, there are so many Valentine’s Day — Chinese Valentine’s Day and May 20th, and a lot of holidays and celebrations for girls. Actually, a lot of men around me are saying, ‘Oh my god, it’s Valentine’s Day again? I have to give a gift again?’” said Liang. “In China, boys will always pay the bill for dinners. Right now, people are talking about women and men having the same rights and the same things. So, maybe boys can have a holiday for themselves.”

Liang recommended to Dunhill that the launch date of their collaboration should coincide with White Day, an increasingly popular festival in the country that is so far undersaturated in terms of marketing opportunities. Dunhill is betting that by partnering with a local influencer, who is deeply integrated in popular culture and has a finger on the pulse of current issues, it will propel the brand further in China.

Liang is expanding his online offering and will be launching a Mr. Jewels account in the first half of this year. The new WeChat channel will focus on fine jewelry and watches to help Chinese consumers choose the best investment pieces.

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