More sophisticated Chinese fashion consumers have driven up demand for Australian Merino Wool in China. Leading Chinese and international textile companies, such as Youngor and Cerrutti 1881, have made their use of Australian Merino wool a key component of their collections that have proved very popular with Chinese consumers.
Attendance at CHIC is compulsory for anyone who's anything to do with the fashion and textile industry in China, and The Woolmark Company, the flagship organisation of the Australian Wool producers who supply 90 per cent of the fine wool that is used in premium and luxury garments, hasn't missed one show since Chic started.
The Australian presence at CHIC 2014 will be their biggest ever, and that's a reflection not just of The Woolmark Company's commitment to the Chinese market, but also of the encouraging signs that Chinese consumers are giving them.
"Not very long ago the premium and luxury garments market here was all about prestigious labels," said The Woolmark Company's Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer Rob Langtry.
"But Chinese consumers are now showing a real interest in ingredient branding. That means not just the garment itself and the style of it, but the story behind it – how the fabric's made, where the fibre comes from, and what makes it special. And when it comes to all those things, nobody has a better story to tell than Australian Merino wool."
Mr Langtry said one of the key reasons that Chinese fashion shoppers are becoming more discerning and sophisticated was the increased international travel that many Chinese can now afford. "A lot of more affluent Chinese people are spending a lot more time in overseas in cities like Hong Kong, London, Paris and New York. And increasingly they're looking for the same kind of quality and added value that shoppers in those places look for."
Because of its extraordinary softness and exceptional performance, the use of Australian Merino wool has long been a key selling point for leading British and European menswear and womenswear brands, with British and European brands who sell into China such as Gieves & Hawkes and Cerruti often highlighting the central role of Australian Merino in their collections.
But as you'll see if you visit The Woolmark Company stand at this year's CHIC, some major local players are now also starting to tell the Merino story, and are already being rewarded for doing so. Towards the end of 2013 Youngor, one of the country's largest fashion retailers, ran a joint Australian Merino wool promotion with The Woolmark Company, and by mid-January were reporting a 20 per cent increase in all wool sales in participating stores.
"The Chinese fashion market is cluttered with medium to high-end apparel brands," said Youngor Regional Manager Li Chunbao, when the campaign was launched. "We wanted to do something that was interesting and educational, something that would allow us to tell our customers about our quality credentials."
The way the promotion worked for Youngor will be showcased at The Woolmark Company CHIC stand, including the online education program that The Woolmark Company developed to educate Youngor sales staff about Australian Merino to the point where they can answer any question their more discerning and curious customer might ask. The Woolmark Company is now in discussions with other leading Chinese companies that wish to emphasize the use of Australian Merino wool in their collections.
"We're obviously delighted the partnership with Youngor has been so successful and discussions of an expansion of our current relationship with Youngor are ongoing," said Mr Langtry. "What has worked for Youngor, will work equally well for other leading Chinese textile groups and we are pleased to say that discussions are ongoing with several other leading Chinese brands. And Australian Merino wool is one of Australia's precious, natural resources, which has been identified by sophisticated Chinese consumers as a leading ingredient and component of premium and luxury garments."
As in previous years, a substantial section of the The Woolmark Company's presence at Chic will be dedicated to "The Wool Lab." Originally conceived as a useful reference source for designers looking for new and innovative fabric design, The Wool Lab has very quickly established itself as an indispensable tool for any designer or manufacturer or retailer who needing to anticipate fabric trends and plan for changing consumer tastes on a seasonal basis.
Visitors to The Woolmark Company stand will also get the chance to see fabrics from the exclusive Woolmark Gold range, which made its debut in China last year, and has been described as the world's first international gold standard of fine tailoring. To qualify for Woolmark Gold status a fabric must not only be made of Australian Merino with a width of 19 microns or less (10 times finer than the average human hair) but must also adhere to strict manufacturing criteria which only a small number of weaving companies can meet.
In the past, only a small number of British and European weavers have qualified for membership of this club, but The Woolmark Company will introduce the benefits of Woolmark Gold to leading Chinese luxury menswear brands and is currently in discussions with a view to appointing the first Chinese menswear brand as a Woolmark Gold brand partner.