As China’s lingerie market grows, industry experiences consolidation

By Xie Jun in Shanghai Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/14 18:33:39

Revealing underwear, skimpy profits


Chinese mainland's lingerie market is in the midst of consolidation. On one hand, growing demand for lingerie, especially in the high-end market, has been drawing big international brands to the mainland. On the other hand, the lower-end market has been saturated with domestic products and brands, few of which stand out. The resulting fierce competition has left domestic lingerie companies with falling profits, though some are finding ways to set themselves apart

Employees work at a lingerie factory in Dongguan, South China's Guangdong Province, in March 2016. Photo: CFP



   

  

Graphics: GT



Graphics: GT



A woman surnamed Zhuang, a 29-year-old white-collar worker, snuck away from the office on her lunch break Monday to spend about two hours shopping at the newly opened Victoria's Secret (VS) flagship store on Huaihai Road in Shanghai.

Zhuang found the store impressive. Inside the four-storey, 2,404-square-meter space, which opened on March 8, 2017 to mark the International Women's Day, bouquets of flowers sat among thousands of pieces of lingerie, and the scent of perfume hung in the air. On the walls, LED screens showed videos of VS models strutting fashion show runways.

Zhuang, who did not want to give her full name, ended up buying two sets of lingerie for about 1,500 yuan ($216.86).

It is unclear how well the VS brand is doing in China. When contacted by the Global Times, the company would not disclose its sales figures for the domestic market.

Worldwide, its sales rose to $7.78 billion in 2016, up from $7.67 billion in 2015, according to the company.

VS has two flagship stores in the Chinese mainland, one in Shanghai and one in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan Province, as well as 26 stores selling accessories and makeup.

Other foreign lingerie brands are also vying for a piece of the growing Chinese domestic market. The Italian high-end brand La Perla, for example, has opened nine stores on the mainland since it entered the market in 2007.

Foreign lingerie brands are coming to China just as the country's lingerie market, particularly the high-end market, is taking off, said Cai Sujian, head of the Jiangsu-based China Luxury Institute.

But Cai stressed that overseas brands such as VS are not going to fundamentally alter the makeup of the domestic lingerie market, which remains dominated by low-end Chinese brands.

"A price war is eroding the domestic lingerie market, and the industry is undergoing a transition," he told the Global Times on Monday.

The rise of high-end

As Chinese women shed the stereotype of being conservative and reserved, the demand for lingerie has skyrocketed in recent years.

The country's underwear market grew from $15.5 billion in 2010 to $25.5 billion in 2015, while sales of lingerie nearly doubled from $9 billion to $17.9 billion, according to a businessoffashion.com report in May 2016.

Official lingerie sales data in China in 2016 had not been disclosed.

Consumers interviewed by the Global Times also said they were willing to spend more on lingerie. The aforementioned consumer Zhuang, for example, said that in 2016 she spent about 300 yuan a month on average on lingerie, which accounted for about 4 percent of her monthly income, but five years ago she bought new lingerie less than once a year.

Another consumer, Helen Meng, a 30-year-old woman working in the fashion industry, said she has been spending more on lingerie over the last two years.

"I think quality is more important than price, and I would consider buying more expensive lingerie, like those priced above 1,000 yuan, as long as their quality matches the price," she told the Global Times on Sunday.

It's the high end of the market that has been taking off, according to Cai.

"In the domestic high-end lingerie market, sales grew by more than 10 percent year-on-year in 2016," he said. "This trend has attracted overseas lingerie brands, most of which are more mature than domestic brands, to the Chinese market."

Fierce competition

Still, foreign lingerie brands pose little threat to their domestic competitors, Cai said. The most significant competition in the market right now is among Chinese brands.

Although demand for lingerie is rising, the fierce competition in the Chinese market has not made life easy for domestic lingerie companies, said a salesman surnamed Dai at lingerie maker Miiow Co, based in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei Province.

"Although the market has grown, there is too much competition," said Dai, who did not want to disclose his full name.

The competition can be seen in the number of Chinese lingerie makers, which have almost tripled since 2010, when there were about 10,000 such companies in China, according to Dai.

Company costs have also increased.

"In 1998, when Miiow was established, the company paid a senior executive about 2,000 yuan a month. Now, a person in the same position makes about 30,000 yuan," Dai told the Global Times on Saturday. The average annual salary for ordinary workers in Hubei was more than 5,000 yuan in 1998, according to the provincial government.

Rising costs have eaten into lingerie company profits. Miiow could boast profit margins of 30 percent in the late 1990s, Dai said. Now it is about 20 percent. He also noted that since 2014, the company's sales revenues have been falling. In 2016, they slumped about 5 percent.

The board of directors of lingerie maker Guangdong Cosmo Lady Co, which owns lingerie brands Cosmo Lady and Ordifen, expected profits to fall 50 percent to 60 percent in 2016, China Fashion magazine reported in January, citing the company's board of directors.

There is also a surplus of products on the domestic lingerie market, and fierce competition has caused domestic companies to start a price war.

"Sometimes their products are OK in quality, but they dare not raise their prices for fear of losing ground to their competitors," Cai noted.

Dai didn't think that overseas brands like VS would have much of an effect on the Chinese domestic market.

"The design of their products might not suit Chinese consumers," he said.

New sales strategies

To deal with the problem of rising costs and falling prices, domestic companies have adopted different strategies to increase sales.

Some companies are trying to tap related markets. Beijing Qianyisheng Sports Culture Development Co, for example, focused its business on making lingerie for people who do yoga, and has received a good response from the market.

The company's sales revenue grew to 80 million yuan in 2016, up from 63 million yuan in 2015, according to a statement the company sent to the Global Times on Friday.

Another domestic lingerie brand, RomedMaore, adjusted its sales strategy around the end of 2016 by offering free products in exchange for plunking down on certain amount on a prepaid gift card, a company salesperson told the Global Times on Friday.

Dai explained that the domestic lingerie market is undergoing a period of consolidation. 

"Competition will heat up even more in the future, but the ones who will succeed are those who have a clear view of the market," he said.

 

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