Since 2010 China has been Asia’s largest denim market.
In 2012 sales of jeans in China totaled $11.5 billion, compared with just $7.4 billion in Japan. The upswing in the denim business there has caused many brands to reinterpret their core mission, designs, and marketing strategies as the quintessentially American apparel item takes on a whole new life, reports WWD.
“It’s a good time for Asian brands. There’s more interest in Asian brands now,” said David Pun, CEO of Evisu – a premium Japanese denim brand. Evisu now gets about 90 percent of its sales from Asia. Of its 120 stand-alone stores in Asia, 80 of them are in Mainland China. “The consumer wants history but also wants something different,” he said.
The top 5 denim brands in Asia — Levi’s, Lee, Texwood, Uniqlo and Calvin Klein – reveal the fragmented tastes of the young market. Collectively, the mix of foreign and domestic brands has just 12 percent of the market share according to Euromonitor.
In North America, the top 5 brands lay claim to 36.5 percent of market share, and in Europe the top five labels have 20 percent. “With no dominant player, there are evident opportunities for gaining share. Competition in jeans in Asia is incredibly intense, coming from both local Asian and international players,” said Ashama Kunde, apparel analyst at Euromonitor.
Levi’s and Lee remain the top two denim brands in Asia for the time being, but local players are getting a lot of attention. The Hong Kong-based Texwood has been in China since 1970, and has become the country’s answer to the Gap. Also based in Hong Kong, Esprit redesigned its denim line over the past few years to be more appealing to Asian women, offering “slimmer, sexier fits” and “girly” silhouettes. There’s also plenty of bling, which performs well in Asia.
Denim is still anyone’s game in China, but signs indicate that the market is starting to mature and homogenize. Richard Atkins, a Hong Kong-based denim expert, notes that the “washing” of Chinese brands tended to be very dramatic, but as customers undertake more international travel, their tastes are starting to reflect Western trends more. However, the Chinese have not yet grasped the West’s obsession with denim. “In China, if you increase your price too much, you lose your customer,” said Atkins.” While Chinese shoppers have no problem paying thousands for a new handbag, they don’t know why anyone would pay a premium for “workwear items” like denim.
image credit: thinkretail