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SuperGroup must learn its history if it's to avoid failure in China

SuperGroup is hoping to expand into China – but the country’s decades-old hatred of Japan could stymie its efforts.

This week Drapers revealed SuperGroup’s plans to launch into China with an online presence first. The business is, quite rightly, looking to “test the waters” before rolling out more widely, as it looks to share in some of the successes of other retailers in the most populous nation in the world.

But the parent of young fashion brand SuperDry could face a challenge that other British names have not concerned themselves with: China’s decades-old hatred of Japan.

Rivalry between the two nations dates back centuries but it’s Japan’s 1937 invasion of the country – as typified by the so-called ‘Rape of Nanjing’, in which nearly 300,000 people were killed in six weeks - that many in the country cannot forget.

And this is not the older generation, as perhaps you might expect with World War II veterans in their view of Germany. The young consumer – SuperDry’s core market – feel as strongly about it as if it happened in their lifetime.

As recently as 2005, there were widespread protests against Japan becoming a permanent member of the UN’s Security Council – and this in a country where protests are, on the whole, banned. Japanese goods were boycotted and many businesses – particularly electricals and cars – either struggled, exited the country, or had to hide their roots.  

So the idea that a brand that made its name by featuring Japanese characters across pretty much every item in the portfolio could grow in China is a challenge.

It’s one that perhaps has been recognised – as we report, SuperGroup has noted that “our graphics may not work in all Asian countries”.

If the brand is to have any chance of success in China, it needs to emphasise its newer fashion styles, and rid its garments of Japanese characters as far as it can. Of course, not everyone in the country feels this way about their neighbour, but a significant number of potential shoppers are likely to be put off by any suggestion of a relationship with the once brutal occupier.

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