How International Lifestyle and Sports Brands Conquer China

China's middle class is growing steadily, and rising wealth tends to bring more leisure time for over 110 million Chinese from the middle echelons of society. Many of them spend that time doing sports. An opportunity for international lifestyle and sports brands.

Asian Shops

Lorna Jane is not going to miss out on this opportunity. The fitness brand is present in 64 markets worldwide and has been operating in China for about five years. Sales rates for Lorna Jane in China are steadily rising, although sales director David Brown does not want to reveal details. "But we continue to increase our focus on the Chinese market, because the sales potential there is currently the greatest for us." This is not surprising, since, according to Statista, the per capita income of the country’s 1.4 billion inhabitants has almost tripled over the past ten years—and more than half of them also purchased goods on the internet in 2017. Worldwide, Lorna Jane sells one-quarter of its products online; in China however this percentage is much higher—an indication of the Chinese's predilection for online shopping. The most important sales channels for the women's activewear brand are the major sales portals Tmall and JD, but Lorna Jane also sells successfully through the platform Reshape, which specializes in athleisure. Lorna Jane's Director of Sales uses the ISPO Shanghai to strengthen business relationships with these and other online portals, in particular for 1:1 meetings: "Our business associates are mostly familiar with our products. Participating in the show is about being able to meet many high-quality trade visitors and partners within a short time period."

Also the small British label LNDR sells fitness and lifestyle clothing for women. "We have been present in China for three years now, and I got the feeling that we haven’t even scratched the surface here yet," says LNDR founder Joana Turner. "At ISPO Shanghai, for example, we learned that to be successful in China, the online business not only has to be substantial, but essential,” she adds. However, the expansion of e-commerce is only possible with a local network. The Chinese "like our clothes because they are convinced of the quality of products made in Europe, and they like the combination of lifestyle and functionality," says Turner. “The demand is enormous, but the market can sometimes be intimidating,” she admits. Of course, this is also due to the sheer size of the country. “Good local partners are therefore indispensable,” explains Turner.

This is also the reason why the sportswear brand Gola has been deliberately taking its time about entering the market in China. After several years of market analysis, the company had follow-up meetings with potential partners at ISPO Shanghai. "It's about finding the right sales and distribution partners," says Gola Brand Manager Wayne Howarth. "Quality and a good structure are more important to us than quantity." Because there is one crucial difficulty: the different culture. Other expectations and communicative hurdles make the road to China far more difficult than approaching other markets. On the other hand, the rewards are far greater: like many consumer segments, the sports & outdoor sector in China is currently growing by almost 12 percent according to Statista.