China’s economy might be slowing — its growth rate for 2015 is expected to be 7 percent, which is the lowest it’s been in 11 years — but men’s wear continues to boom in the region, according to Richard Cohen, chief executive officer of Trinity Ltd., which owns men’s wear brands Gieves & Hawkes, Kent & Curwen and Cerruti 1881.
“China is the most exciting opportunity right now,” said Cohen, who joined Trinity in 2014 after serving as the senior vice president of business development at Saks Fifth Avenue.
According to MarketLine, men’s wear represents the largest category in China’s apparel sector, accounting for 43 percent of the business, or $73.3 billion. Women’s trails behind at 34 percent, followed by children’s, which makes up 23 percent of the apparel category.
Despite the robust men’s wear numbers, the area faces challenges. Cohen said over the years the Chinese customer has become much more discerning and the country’s lucrative gifting culture no longer exists. But China’s rapid urbanization and growing middle class create an opportunity for brands.
Trinity currently has 390 stores in China across 65 cities, and its three brands generate $400 million in annual sales. He said the brands’ success in China, which has a population of 1.2 billion, has been predicated on the following: targeting globally, but thinking locally; being authentic, and, most important, engaging the Chinese consumer via the Internet and their mobile phones.
“They don’t go to department stores, they go to their iPhones,” said Cohen.
Citing figures from the Fung Business Intelligence Centre, the executive said that in 2013, China surpassed the U.S. and became the world’s largest e-commerce market. The country’s e-commerce consumer base is 520 million people, which is more than double the U.S. e-commerce consumer base of 200 million, according to iResearch.
“Online shopping has just overtaken regular business. It’s like an express train and we can’t let go,” Cohen said.
As an example, Cohen said Trinity targeted the digital savvy Chinese consumer by sending out SMS text messages to its core customers during the 2014 World Cup. If France won a game, customers could show their SMS text messages to store associates for a 10 percent discount. He and his team were amazed by the response.
Although this customer wants to be engaged on his mobile phone, Cohen said retailers must offer a service in order to get his personal contact information. For example, Trinity obtains a shopper’s information by offering free ironing and home delivery service when customers purchase a shirt.
In addition to being big spenders domestically, Cohen said the Chinese will be traveling more and they expect the same brands they shop at home to be available abroad.
The China-United States Exchange Foundation said that 10 million Chinese will come to the U.S. in 2022 and each person will have $10,000 of disposable income. Cohen said Trinity, which currently has stores in London and Paris, plans on opening locations in the U.S. to target this customer.
“The Chinese are coming,” said Cohen. “You need a Mandarin or Cantonese speaking person in your stores,” he stressed.