A Topman ad for Harris Tweed.
Chinese consumers may have scaled back on flashy luxury items like logo-emblazoned handbags and expensive watches in 2013, but sales of more restrained styles have prompted a boom for luxury tweed and wool industries in China.
In the first nine months of 2013 Scottish tweed exports to China rose to a record high, reaching £9.7 million, more than all of the 2012 exports combined. Meanwhile, China’s overall wool imports increased by 6.5 percent to $2.5 billion the first 11 months of 2013.
Scotland is especially poised to benefit from this increased demand. According to a report by Financial Times, a growing number of Chinese consumers are buying traditional Scottish clothing and using tweed for upholstery in their homes. One main draw of tweed among Chinese consumers is its British heritage, said industry professionals. Wool and cashmere clothing company Johnstons of Elgin has appointed special agents in Beijing in Shanghai, and told the Financial Times that Chinese customers love the brand’s 215-year-old “history and heritage.” Meanwhile, the chairman of the tweedmakers of the Isle of Harris said that “provenance, British [identity], and quality” are the aspects that give tweed brands “a good chance” in China.
Chinese companies are also taking notice of a much nearer country known for its sheep resources—Australia. A Chinese company called Zhejiang RIFA Holding Group has been making big buys of top pastoral properties there in hopes of building up a “wool empire”, reports The Australian.
The allure of British heritage also makes tweed suits a major draw for Chinese tourists visiting London. It may also be boosting Burberry, which has seen sales growth that’s defied the luxury slowdown in recent months. The growing popularity of the British show Sherlock in China, which has millions of viewers there, likely hasn't hurt either.
Even when they’re not buying straight from Scotland or Australia, Chinese luxury customers are likely contributing to the popularity of Scottish wool through their purchase of top global luxury brands such as Chanel, which have been buying more Scottish tweed recently as well.