Victoria’s Secret is launching in mainland China—but it’s not selling underwear

March 7, 2014
Obsession
How We Buy
March 7, 2014

Victoria’s Secret is making its first foray into mainland China, parent company L Brands announced last week, with the opening of Victoria’s Secret Beauty and Accessories stores later this year.

But blinged-out bras, lace undergarments, and $50 sweatpants won’t be available there just yet. These “VSBA” stores are smaller outlets that are often located in airports. Typically, some of them sell underwear, but when queried by Quartz, L Brands said the VSBA stores in China would “focus on an iconic, fashion-forward range of beauty products, including our award-winning prestige fragrances, and chic accessories.”

Still, the entrance of one of the most iconic lingerie brand marks another stage in China’s transformation from the world’s low-cost garment manufacturer into a consumer in the premium clothing sector. Selling lingerie to China’s growing middle class is likely Victoria’s Secret’s end goal. L Brands executive Nicholas Coe called the country “an incredibly significant market for us in the future” during an analyst call on Feb. 27.

China’s contribution to the global lingerie industry is small but growing. In 2010, total revenue was about $3.9 billion, according to statistics from cloth.hc360.com, a Chinese clothing retailer, compared to the global value of the industry of over $30 billion. But sales of intimate wear have been growing up to 20% annually. China is already home to local brands like La Miu, which has been called the Victoria’s Secret of China, as well as independent designers and a few foreign brands like Italy’s La Perla and France’s Etam. Industry observers say there’s certainly room for more competition, given that lingerie is the least saturated segment of the Chinese retail market.

Expanding Chinese interest in intimate wear is also a positive sign for other “invisible” luxury goods like premium perfume and make up, which have only recently started to gain traction among China’s traditionally logo-focused shoppers. In 2012, Tim Brasher, former chief executive of La Perla, told Jing Daily that Chinese consumers tended to have a “much more functional orientation toward lingerie and underwear.”

Victoria’s Secret already has some brand awareness in China. In December, it hosted a version of its annual annual fashion show, in Shanghai and it already operates stores in Hong Kong, where millions of mainland Chinese go to shop. As long as the brand doesn’t try launching another tone-deaf Go East collection—with chopsticks and fans, promising “exotic adventures”—its prospects for unclasping the Chinese market seem bright.

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