Chinese luxury wannabes try to raise their profile

Updated: 2010-08-05 11:42
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Chinese luxury wannabes try to raise their profile

A customer walks into a Shanghai Tang boutique in Hong Kong in this file photo taken in 2007. Shanghai Tang is a designer of brightly colored chic clothing featuring Chinese themes founded in Hong Kong and now with stores worldwide. [Photo / Agencies] 

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, often dubbed the Oracle of Omaha, has seen the future of fashion in the most unlikely of places, bearing a "Made in China" label better known for its cheap than chic.

"I threw away the rest of my suits," beams Buffett in the 2007 video, adding that he and Microsoft founder Bill Gates are fans of Chinese suit maker Trands and would be great salesmen for the company based in the northeast Chinese city of Dalian.

Trands is one of a handful of emerging Chinese brands that someday hope to take on the likes of Gucci, Armani and Prada in the lucrative luxury goods market.

Sales of luxury goods in China grew 12 percent in 2009 to $9.6 billion, accounting for 27.5 percent of the global market, according to Bain & Co. In the next five years, China's luxury spending will increase to $14.6 billion, making it the world's No 1 market.

Buffett's endorsements may make for fun Internet fodder, but analysts point out that the emerging crop of Chinese luxury wannabes face a long uphill battle in taking on the global heavyweights which have more than a century of history and huge marketing muscle.

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Compounding the problem is a longstanding association that equates the "Made in China" label with poor quality and mass-market goods, versus the more exclusive cachet of the "Made in Europe" moniker.

"In the short term I don't think any Chinese luxury brands can compete with the international ones in terms of marketing, brand culture, design and quality," said Marie Jiang, JLM Pacific Epoch analyst.

China is expected to become the world's biggest luxury goods market in five to seven years, fueled by increasingly wealthy and brand-conscious consumers who want the best of everything, said a survey by The Boston Consulting Group in January.

That market has been largely dominated to date by the big Western names, most of which have shops in Shanghai and Beijing and are starting to look at smaller cities as well.

But home-grown brands such as Trands are trying to raise their profile both at home and abroad to get a piece of the lucrative luxury pie.

Ports, another luxury fashion maker founded in 1961, made its own splash by wooing celebrities and sponsoring clothing for the 2006 movie "The Devil Wears Prada."

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