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Aussie fashion labels explore China opportunity

Selling online in China has proved to be a lucrative move for many Australian companies, as the country’s rising middle class fuels demand for overseas products seen as safe and authentic.

Until recently, however, the opportunity was primarily afforded to brands and retailers offering vitamins, cosmetics, skincare and food items.

The most prominent example of this is Chemist Warehouse. Selling through Alibaba’s Tmall Global platform, it processed over $20 million in orders in just 24 hours during the 11.11 Global Shopping Festival last year – the most of any international retailer.

Now Australian fashion brands are looking to replicate the pharmacy’s success story, with online channels providing the way into the People’s Republic.

Over 50 people from small but established domestic labels, including Nobody Denim and Elk Accessories, attended a Trade Victoria event in Melbourne yesterday to learn about opportunities for international expansion.

Representatives from Alibaba, Asialink and other organisations specialising in cross-border e-commerce gave presentations on the Chinese market, consumer behaviour and etiquette in what amounted to a “China 101” course.

Nancy Jian, chief operating officer of My Chemist Warehouse Group’s China division, also shared tips on finding trading partners, building a following, setting prices and other practical aspects of selling in China through Tmall Global.

While many retailers in attendance already see some portion of sales coming from overseas, few have tailored their offers for international growth, let alone specifically for China.

That is an absolute necessity according to the event speakers, who made examples of much bigger retailers – such as Marks & Spencer – that failed in China due to lack of relevance.

At the same time, changing consumer demographics are creating opportunities for niche Australian labels to gain a foothold in a market known for its love of luxury brand names.

“I think consumers are maturing in China from emerging middle class to upper middle class. We all know when consumers mature, their product selection becomes more niche,” Jonathan Wang, Alibaba’s senior business development manager in Australia, said.

“We think there’s a good opportunity for really cool Australian brands like Sass & Bide, but we’re still identifying where they fit in the market. We need to work together to define the Australian style. Much like the Scandinavian style.”

Wang described the interest in Australian fashion as “up-and-coming” in China. Activewear retailer Lorna Jane and designer label Zimmermann are the only Australian fashion brands currently selling in China through Alibaba.

But that will soon change, if the audience at the Melbourne event is anything to go by.

The head of e-commerce at Melbourne-based jeans retailer Nobody Denim told Internet Retailing that the brand is looking to enter the China market in the next one to two years.

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