Selling Americana to China: Abercrombie and Old Navy Take on the Mainland

on May 9 2014 | in Daily Headlines | by | with No Comments

Abercrombie & Fitch launched its brand of sporty, Ivy League-inspired Americana in April in mainland China with a new flagship store in Shanghai. For anyone wondering if the brand might tone down its provocative image for China, the answer is no: The dimly lit store pulses with dance music and features murals of half-undressed young men posing with sports equipment and trophies.

Just down the street from the Abercrombie on West Nanjing Road is another new shop playing up the Americana theme – it’s the mainland’s first Old Navy. Here the ambiance is sunny and family-oriented. One of the mannequins is a canine mascot wearing a sunhat.

Abercrombie and Old Navy, which entered the market within weeks of each other, are the latest brands to transition from America’s malls to China. Both are offering an almost identical retail experience to what consumers would get in the U.S. On a recent weekday afternoon, both were packed.

China is a huge opportunity for Western clothing brands, and not just because it has 1.35 billion consumers. A.T. Kearney estimates the apparel sector will grow 10 to 15% annually in China for the next five years (for comparison, 2013 GDP growth in China was 7.7 %) .

Abercrombie & Fitch sees potential for more than 100 stores in China for its main brand and Hollister, an offshoot.

For brands, explaining their heritage to local consumers is necessary to stand out in a market flooded with new choices from at home and abroad. But how do you explain Abercrombie to someone who has no idea what it is?

Abercrombie issued a helpful “brand heritage” primer for media, explaining how a company that got its start in New York in 1892 selling gear for camping, hunting and fishing eventually became known for its buff male sales staff.

Old Navy’s China web site also highlights its brand story, which dates back to 1994 in California and includes high points such as the launch of performance fleece. (Some brands have more backstory than others.)

Read more at Ad Age.

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