British brands laid foundations for future growth with Asian buyers at the debut Hong Kong trade show The Hub.
The first edition of Asian trade show The Hub exceeded what were admittedly relatively low expectations of exhibiting premium brands last month. Both organisers and exhibitors told Drapers they did not think it would be an order-writing show, but would be using it to set out their stall for buyers from Hong Kong, mainland China and the Asia Pacific region more generally.
Shrugging off jet lag and the occasional sore head caused by one of the many parties during the three-day event, brand managers were able to instigate, and in some cases further develop, contact with distributors and retailers.
Buyers from Hong Kong department stores Harvey Nichols and Lane Crawford attended, alongside a number of Chinese indie retailers.
Many participants said one of the challenges of working in China was not to take things at face value, with one admitting it had almost dismissed what turned out to be a billionaire retail tycoon because of his scruffy attire.
Several exhibitors said there was still a lot of the unknown about trading in China, and for that reason many saw The Hub as a first step towards a Chinese strategy. Indeed, The Hub co-founder Richard Hobbs said it would be foolish to think it could be much more than that.
But there was talk of brands returning for future editions and a sense that it could become a fully established show.
The show, held at AsiaWorld-Expo near the airport, attracted 100 exhibitors, of which 23 were British, and will be expanding by a third for the second season on February 25 to 27, 2014.
UK Fashion & Textile Association
UK Fashion & Textile Association’s Paul Alger, who was instrumental in getting 10 British brands including Private White VC and Elvis Jesus £3,000 grants to show at The Hub, said: “The UK isn’t known for trail blazing into new territories but there is a much higher proportion of British brands [here] than you might expect. It’s partly because of the grants, but there is also a real appetite to be here. And we think there is an appetite from China for them - our research trips suggested the next big trend in China would be heritage and that is where British menswear excels.”
Chris Amoroso, sales executive for premium swimwear brand Orlebar Brown, said he had come to The Hub with “a blank canvas”. Although the brand is stocked in the region in department stores such as Lane Crawford and independents like The Armoury in Hong Kong, Amoroso was using the show as “an exhibition of the brand rather than a hardcore sales campaign”. He praised the organisation, including the use of Mandarin-English translators, and the press coverage that would give the brand a boost in Asia. But he warned that the show falling late in the schedule could become a problem as the The Hub becomes more established. “Our production deadlines have effectively already passed and we wouldn’t be able to adapt around this schedule,” he said.
Mike Todd, chief executive of brand consultancy Two Deck, which was representing Norwegian footwear brand Swims, said he had “really positive meetings” with mainland retailers and had been busy throughout the show. Todd and Swims’ chief executive Alex Eskeland met buyers from Harvey Nichols on the second morning, who selected styles they wanted for spring 14. The pair also met more mainland retailers throughout the show. “There is a good mix, and there is definitely retailer appetite for what we’re showing,” said Todd.
Michael Whitby-Grubb, marketing director for luxury men’s label Penrose London, said he had come with low expectations but had been pleased with the show. “We’re pioneering something new here, so you can’t rush it,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of interesting leads. It’s not been the busiest show but this is uncharted territory. In terms of understanding the market better, The Hub has been good.” Whitby-Grubb, whose Penrose brand is already in Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and Beijing, also applauded the brand mix, noting that the absence of superbrands meant no one label dominated. “There is a lot of nice product here,” he added.
David Mallon, owner of young fashion brand Elvis Jesus, used the show to predominantly meet contacts he had developed over the past few years, and is in discussions with a distributor in Shanghai. “I spent a lot of time working out who I wanted to speak to, so anything outside of those meetings is a bonus,” he said. “I think the show has been great, it’s got the right sensibility, although I don’t think the venue is right.”
Managing director Simon Poole said after a quiet start to the show, footfall picked up on the second day, although it tailed off on the last day. The team had several useful meetings with retailers from Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. “We walked out on the second day saying ‘job done’,” Poole said. “It’s been quality [meetings]rather than quantity.” He added that the brand would probably go again but raised concerns about the late schedule.
Private White VC
Nick Ashley, designer at Private White VC, described entering China as “the Brave New World”. He said: “Both the organisers and the brands have come in with their eyes wide open - this is something completely new and we need to understand the market.” Ashley, who has no stockists in Greater China and was looking for a distributor, added: “We’ve not had a lot of footfall, but it’s been worthwhile just to have one or two meetings. You’d be a fool to have high expectations from your first show here - we are setting out our stall, going fishing, but for a big fish.”
The menswear company’s international brand director George Orris had hoped for more buyers from other parts of Asia such as South Korea, but overall was pleased with the show. “Because we source for other parts of the business in China, we are not totally new to the market, but we are new to selling in it,” he said.
“We’ve been working hard to develop the lifestyle story of our offering and the response has been encouraging.” Orris said he was looking to secure a licensee for China, and after the show was heading across the border to continue conversations that had taken place at The Hub.
The knitwear brand’s global sales and marketing director Jamie Tunnicliffe said he had been working on a Chinese strategy for four years and was attending The Hub to meet potential partners he had already been in touch with. “I’m not naïve to think that three days here will yield a partner who can open hundreds of shops for us, but it’s a start,” he said. “The conversation we have here is the acorn that will turn into an oak in years to come.”