Let us welcome on BrandWatch Sabine Ichikawa. Sabine is a French researcher based in Shanghai, with a long experience in the fashion and luxury industries. She is currently following the re-emergence of Shanghai as a fashion capital. She holds a Ph.D in Business History, and an MBA in International Luxury Brand Management.
Sabine will have a regular column on BrandWatch. Welcome Sabine!
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s revival of a new silk road, on a diplomatic and economic level, may be already followed by companies….
Wensli Group is the largest producer of silk in the city of Hangzhou, outside of Shanghai. This ancient center of silk for 1300 years, and its 1000 silk companies, exported 44 200 tons (322 million euros) of silk in 2013, about 30% of the domestic market. End of 2014, this company founded in 1975, purchased a century old factory in France, Marc Rozier, which used to produce silk for Hermès in the city of Lyon. Patrick Bonnefond, a former CEO of Hermes Silk Holding Group, was appointed on the board of directors of Wensli. Recently the Honorary Chairman, Ms Tu Hongyan, 37th on Forbes China Power Women list in 2014, claimed that her strategy was to create a Chinese Hermès. What does that reveal?
On the one hand, it shows that China wants to regain its status of silk producer. Indeed Ms Tu’s mother grew the business through export, but the daughter learnt about quality in Japanese mills, and understands the importance of brands. On the other hand it shows that high-end branding knowledge is still in a process of acquisition for many local producers.
For instance this ad from the Wensli website shows a "copy" strategy of Hermès:
Let us hope that they will work on developping a true personal brand image.
My questions are: Why do Chinese companies still need to have a foreign model? Why would anyone like to become someone else?
Although Hermès brand is famous for silk, they do not sell silk. They have become a world famous brand for their continuous investment in craftsmanship, quality, heritage and design, for five generations. The orange gift box that Wensli uses to wrap up a 400 Rmb (45 euros) silk scarf sold in their headquarters’ gift shop seems from another age. Hermès is not a product, it is not silk, nor an orange box. It cannot be copied because the intangible dimension of a brand goes beyond what a manufacturer can reproduce, however technologically advanced their machines are. A brand is in people’s mind. Can “made in France” scarves made by Wensli compete with Hermes, even with Marc Rozier? I think that is not the issue, and I would rather suggest Chinese managers to take the time to build a long-term brand strategy, to dig into their splendid culture, blend it with modern design, work with talented Chinese artists, and the whole world might be attracted again by Chinese silk.