Amy Yang shapes Levi Strauss' denim drive to ride China market's shift toward luxury
Amy Yang has donned many hats before she took over as the managing director and CEO of the China unit of Levi Strauss in August last year. To be able to connect Levi's and the China market is an honor because the local consumers' aspirational choices are defined by forward-looking fashions, she said.
Yang has risen through the ranks with two decades of retailing career behind her in companies like Procter & Gamble, L'Oreal Group, and Coca-Cola in China and the United States.
She said a company needs to be consumer-obsessed, and appreciate that there is no one-size-fits-all for the entire China market.
A native of Beijing, Yang said "dream, dare, do" is her favorite '3-D' theme that is true to her personal and professional life.
China is one of the world's top countries with regard to executive gender equality and now has the world's highest proportion of women working in senior management positions. Her vision for Levi's in China is for the company to become a true market driver and deliver exponential growth.
With more than 500 stores in China, the denim jeans maker recently opened its new flagship store in Wuhan, Hubei province, which is also the largest in Asia. At the Wuhan store, it offers a wider range of customization options, including designs from local artists. The company said it would like to use the Wuhan store as a template to further expand and create a fleet of premium-plus stores in China.
Customization of clothes has worked well for increasingly sophisticated Chinese consumers. In February, Levi's launched its WeChat customization store, and it has seen remarkably positive results.
"China is a top priority for Levi's and we see a huge potential and a huge long-term opportunity. In China, our performance was positive but it remains far from its potential. With China expected to be the top luxury market with over 40 percent of the global consumption by 2025, we are very excited by the opportunity," Yang said.
"In China, fashion-conscious consumers are also digitally savvy. With e-commerce making shopping so easy, we need to create stores that push the boundaries of what is possible so the brand can keep up with the expectations of Chinese consumers. The power of the brand is strong and we need to make it relevant to young people in China," she said.
Currently, China accounts for 3 percent of Levi's global business, and it believes there is scope for the country to become a growth engine for the company.
Yang said the recent geopolitical volatility and ongoing trade dispute between China and the United States have dampened consumer sentiment, and the company is keeping a close eye on that.
"We are focusing more than ever to mitigate the impact of a global economic slowdown, which historically has a larger impact on the middle-income people. This is another factor that supports our strategy to focus on the affluent and upper middle-income people in China," Yang said.
"China is a large economy with very strong internal consumption power, and we need to focus our expansion in must-win cities with the right store formats and the right assortment."
Last year, Levi's saw its best performance in over 25 years. It achieved sales revenue of $5.6 billion globally, up 14 percent. In the first six months this year, the company saw its business grow across regions and brands. Its menswear business, which contributed bulk of its revenues, tops the denim brand globally.
The company's third-quarter results showed its Asia business delivered 12-percent revenue growth year-on-year, on top of 10 percent a year ago. Operating income increased 25 percent, with wholesale, franchisee and e-commerce each posting double-digit growth year-on-year. Most markets in the region grew. In China, Levi's sees the women's category growing faster than men's. It is excited by the opportunity to grow this under-penetrated category.
"In the past few decades, China has undergone a fashion revolution. Chinese people are well-traveled and discerning. We believe they will want to invest in pieces that allow them to express themselves," she said.
A frequent traveler with busy work schedules, Yang said she believes in the importance of unwinding when it's time to take a break. One of the best ways for her to unwind is to go on adventures.
She took a sabbatical from work in 2014 and had many adventures, including living in an ice hotel and waiting for the northern lights alone in the Arctic Circle area in Sweden.
"The sense of adventure will always follow me. Going to Antarctica will be the next one. I am very fortunate to travel extensively for my work and meet people from different countries and cultures. I'm constantly learning about new markets, so that makes things interesting," she said.