Export to China case study

Textile guru’s slow sure road to China - Malcolm Campbell

One of Britain’s top textile innovators is co-ordinating a four-pronged attack on the very top end of China’s growing luxury market.

Malcolm Campbell, who has been involved in the textile industry for more than four decades, is involved in selling customised ultra-niche British fabrics to individuals with premium spending power. But he insists that his secret weapon is time. To achieve success, he says, involves playing the long game.

Mr Campbell is the branding and marketing executive for a Leeds tailoring company and co-ordinates a collaboration with three other Yorkshire companies, pooling their talents to penetrate the highest end of the Chinese market.

Working with tailors Skopes, weavers John Foster, dyers and finishers W. T. Johnson & Sons and Platinum Labels, Mr Campbell has developed a series of super-niche products for China’s growing elite.

After visiting the country he began to appreciate the full extent of the Chinese love-affair with jade, the highly-prized ornamental stone long favoured for its life-enhancing properties. Working alongside his textile associates he produced a superfine wool fabric micro-encapsulated with Chinese jade called Kingfisher Imperial – the Emperor’s Cloth of Heaven.

The consortium has also produced Golden Dragon, a top notch cloth with a 24 carat gold pinstripe and special shower-proof qualities. Other unique products are in the pipeline.

Using the specialist skills of Platinum Labels, the fabrics are all presented with high quality swing tickets, sumptuous brochures and special boxes. The group is now experimenting with other exotic fibres such as ibex goat and albino camel. 

“The Chinese customers absolutely love all this,” says Mr Campbell. “The fabrics sell at a premium and the suits sell for between £10,000 and £15,000.

“No one has ever thought of doing any of this before. It’s a combination of intricate design, unusual textile fibres and focused marketing to the end-consumer.”

The consortium has worked with UK Trade & Investment and undertaken a research project with the China-Britain Business Council to identify 15 potential Chinese collaborating companies.

Despite the pizazz and innovation, Mr Campbell stresses the need for businesses to proceed at an oriental rather than Western pace.

“Everyone wants things to happen immediately and people have got to realise that that’s a great calamity,” he adds. “It’s going to be 2014 or 2015 before we are fully up and running with what could be a £15 million project.

“People who want a quick result will give up. In China you need tenacity to keep it going.”

Working with agents or distributors and getting access to their local knowledge and networks can often prove to be the easiest option for new exporters. However, this can involve extra costs and loss of control as well as running the risk of having your products copied. So due diligence is required in choosing the right representative and this will almost certainly involve visiting the country.

Chamber International - Harris Tweed

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