Matthew Carlton
Jan 6, 2011

Gap's expansion fuels Asia fashion war

Asia is an attractive breeding ground for fast-fashion labels. But is this just part of the retailer's global expansion or to compensate for poorer performances elsewhere?

Gap's expansion fuels Asia fashion war

The recent news that Gap is finally entering the Chinese market will have surprised few in the Asian fashion industry, particularly as the likes of rival global fast fashion chains such as Zara, H&M and Uniqlo are already commanding a presence on high streets and in shopping malls in major regional cities.

While some have questioned Gap’s strategy to open first in just Shanghai and Beijing, rather than tier two cities where consumers are deprived of well-known fashion labels, the brand should fare well in China, according to Angie Chan, senior research manager, Greater China for Starcom MediaVest.  “It is already a known and desired brand in China, judging from the counterfeit Gap products seen in the marketplace. Thus [they are] bringing the brand into a market of already-familiar and already-willing consumers.”

Brands such as Gap view the emerging Asian market, with its growing number of fashion savvy, increasingly affluent consumers, as a genuine source of profitability and growth following the global economic downturn. Uniqlo had 64 outlets in China as of May 2010, with plans to expand to 1,000 outlets before 2020, while Inditex-owned women’s, men’s and children’s wear retailer, Zara has declared that due to falling sales in Europe and the US, Asia in general will be the new focus of growth, accounting for about half of the planned Zara store openings with a specific focus on the China market.

Some Asian countries were less affected by the recession two years ago than others, so the fast-fashion market throughout the region managed to maintain the steady growth patterns already established, a point backed by Nils Andersson, chief creative officer, Y&R China: “Fast-fashion is in a unique position as it can capture consumers trading up, from local or supermarket brands, and those trading down from designer brands. It is therefore - although not immune - less prone to the effects of any recession.”

Chan concurs, likening it to the famous recession ‘lipstick effect’. “Women especially look for a little pick-me-up when shopping in hard times and while an expensive pair of shoes might be out of the question, she might be able to get a top or accessories - this is a fun and attractive alternative for her to continue to indulge, but in a responsible manner.”

Described as ‘the everyday male or female who looks for inspiration in the way they dress and present themselves to others’, fast-fashion consumers in China and Korea are dressing more casually, and are less concerned with having to flaunt their new-found wealth. As a consumer group Andersson feels they are “more individually empowered”. This is the key target for fast-fashion brands, which cater to consumer tastes by producing reasonably-priced apparel based on  latest trends in a matter of days rather than weeks. Zara can move from identifying a fashion trend to having clothes in its stores within just 12 days.

Fast-fashion is evidently here to stay, the outlook appears rosy with widespread opinion that Asia is at the epicentre of future growth. With rapid speed of production, an ability to adapt to new trends quickly - and at decent qualities coupled with low prices - it is easy to see why brands in this sector are flourishing. 

This article was originally published in the November 2010 issue of Campaign.

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