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Mon, May 23, 2005 - Page 12 News List

French clothing firm finds success exporting upmarket goods to China


France is playing a leading role in pressing the EU to act against imports of Chinese textiles, but a French clothing company is showing how it is possible to survive and prosper by exporting to China.

The family company, La Bonneterie Cevenole company, based in the Ardeche region of southern France, specializes in up-market Montagu brand shirts made from an artificial fiber known as polyamide, and exports 80 percent of its 750,000 annual production to China, explained chief executive Pierre Gros.

The very rich

"Today in Europe, people buy Chinese clothing products, because they prefer to spend their money on telecommunications or overseas holidays, while in China, there is a category of very rich people who want to buy imported products even if they are expensive," Gros said.

La Bonneterie Cevenole, established in 1929, made a key strategic move in the 1970s with an early entry into China using a clever marketing strategy even though it could not legally sell its products inside the country.

Pierre Gros, during a trip to Hong Kong in the 1970s at the age of 24, was struck by the uniformity of the clothing and the intense curiosity of the Chinese about Western culture.

Billboard beginnings

"We realized that China could become a market and we had an idea to do advertising there, even though we didn't have the right to sell in China," Gros said.

For "almost nothing," and before the opening of the Chinese market, the company bought large billboard advertising spaces in railway stations and key locations in Guangzhou and Shanghai as well as television advertisements in Hong Kong and Macau.

"A lot of people live in Hong Kong and go back every year to visit their families in [mainland] China taking back presents, jeans or cigarettes. Our strategy at the time was to make the Montagu shirt part of the presents carried back by visitors," Gros said.

The campaign proved successful and company, which then had 20 stores in Hong Kong, saw its sales multiply.

"The market opened little by little, first in Hong Kong, then after four or five years with normal merchandise trade" the rest of China, Gross said.


Gros is not pessimistic about the future of the French textile industry because "France has an image of high-quality."

He said: "The Chinese want to buy French products which stand out from what they can buy at home."

However, the successful French exporter called for a "fairer treatment" by China where the tax on European clothing products is 14 to 17 percent compared to 5 percent in Europe.

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