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And this is Story in the Story.
The Middle East is one of the fastest-rising fashion markets in the world, with young, wealthy consumers willing to spend money on clothing and accessories.
According to Statista, an online statistics and market research website, revenue in the fashion segment in Africa and the Middle East amounted to $4.4 billion in 2018 and is expected to show an annual growth rate of 10.5 percent over the next five years.
In recent years, many Western fashion giants have been trying to adapt to the Arab market and Chinese fashion companies don't want to be left out.
The Arab world is no stranger to Chinese products, including Chinese clothing. Since at least the 1990s, traders from Arabian countries have been traveling to China to buy low-to-middle-end garments and accessories from wholesalers in cities like Yiwu in Zhejiang Province, home to the world's biggest wholesale market.
But as China engages more in the Middle East through its Belt and Road initiative, its fashion and e-commerce industries are also taking fashion to the next level, as the businesses hope to bring fast fashion and luxury clothing to the rising Arab fashion market.
Today's Story in the Story looks at how Chinese fashion and clothing brands are trying to tap into the Arab fashion market by catering to local consumer habits to promote themselves and drive sales.
Night view of Dubai. (Photo: VCG)
One evening in Dubai last November, a model dressed in a shimmering silver-grey gown with layers of luscious lace strutted down a runway for the Dubai Fashion Days of 2019, a prominent fashion event in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The piece showcased by the model is part of the pre-fall 2019 collection by evening gown and wedding dress maker Judy&Julia, one of over a dozen fashion brands originated in China that participated in the fashion event. In total, Chinese brands accounted for almost half of the brands being showcased.
"We presented our luxury collection to the Dubai Fashion Days, which includes a lot of embellished evening wear that caters specially to the Middle East market," said Gao Wei, founder of Judy&Julia.
The Chinese fashion brands at the Dubai Fashion Days are not the only Chinese element at the show. The event is presented by Hala China, an initiative by two Dubai conglomerates aiming to attract Chinese visitors to Dubai and the UAE. The organizers of the event include JollyTrust, a subsidiary of Chinese e-commerce platform Jollychic that has over 50 million users in the Middle East. Organizers say the event is an attempt to connect China's fashion industry with the Arab world.
Zhang Qinghui, chairman of the China Fashion Association, said in addition to facilitating cultural exchange, Dubai Fashion Days will provide the perfect opportunity for the two countries to present their designs, expertise, resources and creativity.
"We believe this can be the start of a long-term partnership that will create exposure across both markets and support their growth," he said.
A model showcasing a dress at Chinese dress maker Judy&Julia's fashion show in Dubai in November 2018. (Photo: Global Times)
However, compared with Western brands which enjoy popular brand awareness in the Middle East, new Chinese brands have many challenges to overcome. One of them is to shift the locals' impression of Chinese brands, which Gao says is often associated with cheap prices despite their good quality.
"Their impression of Chinese clothing is that it's cheap even though it has relatively good quality. However, in terms of brand-added value, Chinese brands don't have an advantage. The same products by a Chinese brand may have to sell at a considerably lower price than those from a foreign brand," he said.
Judy&Julia's strategy is to market itself as a global brand with products all made in China. The brand is registered in New York and the company has set up local warehouses in the US and Germany.
"Marketing a brand as an inside-out Chinese brand may expose weaknesses. Localization is critical," Gao said.
Gao's view is echoed by David Ding, co-founder and executive president of Jollychic, which has achieved success in the Middle East over the past few years. "It takes time for the Chinese brands to be recognized by the Middle East market. After all, the foreign market isn't very familiar with them," he said.
Headquartered in Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province, Jollychic connects fashion brands like Heilan Home, Septwolves, Balabala and Semir to over 35 million users in the Middle East that have registered on the platform, and empowers them with local warehouses, call centers and fast delivery service.
Currently it has 600 local staff in its call center in Jordan, and 350 staff in the region of Saudi Arabia. It provides a total of over 1,000 employment opportunities in the Middle East.
Ding believes that as the quality of Chinese brands improves and as their prices remain modest, Chinese fashion brands will be better recognized by consumers in the Middle East.
(Produced by Nancy Yan Xu, Brian Lowe, Lance Crayon and Da Hang. Music by: bensound.com. Text from Global Times.)