Peacebird Has Mastered Fast Fashion But Can It Go High-End?

    While ultra-fast-fashion rival Shein attracts headlines, slightly less ultra-fast fashion group Peacebird may be the one to watch in 2022.
    One of Peacebird's recent collaborations leveraged the star power of supermodel Liu Wen. Image: Peacebird
      Published   in Fashion

    Key Takeaways:#

    • While less of a household name than rival Shein outside of China, Peacebird is a fast-fashion juggernaut with a growing stable of portfolio brands.
    • Powered by collaborations with rising domestic designers as well as international brands, Peacebird is aggressively tackling new, more lucrative market segments.
    • Yet concerns about design plagiarism and a massive brick-and-mortar presence mean Peacebird needs to think fast if it is to maintain growth in 2022.

    Although its ultra-fast-fashion rival Shein attracts the headlines outside of China, slightly less ultra-fast fashion group Peacebird may be the one to watch in 2022, with the company looking to diversify slowing revenue streams and attract new consumers via high-profile collaborations and acquisitions.

    According to the Ningbo-based company’s 2021 annual performance report, Peacebird’s operating income rose 16.3 percent year-on-year in the 12 months to December 31, 2021, reaching 10.92 billion yuan ($1.71 billion). This marks the first time the company has surpassed the 10 billion yuan mark in its nearly 27-year history. Although there are signs that the company’s growth could slow due to massive inventory pressure – and the potential effects of China’s current COVID resurgence – Peacebird has a lot going for it.

    Much of the company’s recent momentum comes down to its deep embrace of e-commerce, a segment that should become even more important if lockdowns intensify in the months ahead. According to the 2021 performance report, online sales increased 20 percent to 3.36 billion yuan ($528 million) during the reporting period and accounted for more than 30 percent of total group revenue. But one area that shows the greatest ongoing e-commerce potential comes from Douyin, TikTok’s China-market sibling. Based on company figures, Peacebird expects Douyin e-commerce to account for nearly 20 percent of the company’s total e-commerce sales going forward.

    But, as we’ve seen from other fast-fashion groups in China, affordability, convenient e-commerce sales, and social media prowess aren’t enough to power sustainable growth or fend off competition. For that, Peacebird has looked to jump on the collaboration trend to attract new consumers and lend a more premium air to some of its portfolio brands.

    Recent collaborations indicate that Peacebird largely knows what it’s doing, with the company partnering up with French designer Coralie Marabelle and Dutch designer Mikey Wormack, as well as domestic Chinese talent like Calvin Luo and Xu Zhi. Another 13-piece collection created with hot local brand Shushu/Tong sold more than 17,000 pieces on Tmall, while a hashtag celebrating cool Peacebird collaborations (#太平鸟神仙联名) has nearly 23 million views on Douyin.

    The brand’s latest collaboration with Susan Fang has been a hit with consumers aiming to get their hands on a piece by the designer at a fraction of her eponymous brand’s typical price point. While a Susan Fang skirt retails for around 5,768 yuan ($908), a similar Peacebird x Susan Fang piece costs around 799 yuan ($125). In addition to local and foreign designers, Peacebird is also collaborating with celebrities, with one recent collaboration leveraging the star power of supermodel Liu Wen.

    Peacebird has also looked to diversify its revenue streams and climb into higher-end segments via investment in and acquisitions of premium labels. Most notably, Peacebird acquired Milan-based streetwear and skatewear brand Coppollela in 2020. More recently, Peacebird invested 10 million yuan ($1.57 million) for a 20 percent stake in menswear label 8on8, founded in 2017 by Central Saint Martins graduate Gong Li.

    Fashion blogger @贾越Jeremy called out Peacebird on social media for copying other brands. Photo: Weibo
    Fashion blogger @贾越Jeremy called out Peacebird on social media for copying other brands. Photo: Weibo

    But if Peacebird’s seven portfolio brands are going to make progress in capturing the lucrative middle-market occupied by the likes of JNBY, the group needs to get serious about addressing serious plagiarism concerns. Peacebird has long been accused of stealing intellectual property from both local and international artists and designers. One recent scandal saw independent designer brand SOS-SEAMSTRESS accuse Peacebird of making exact replicas of designs selling on Taobao, selling them for a fraction of the cost of the originals.

    But it’s not just small independent labels accusing the fast-fashion giant of plagiarism, with Valentino and Balenciaga among the luxury brands seeing their designs “interpreted” by Peacebird in recent years. Even official collaborations have gone sour, with artist Joshua Vides caught up in a legal battle with Peacebird last summer after Vides said the brand put his signature on a collection in which he was not involved.

    If Peacebird expects to maintain profit growth and ease the pressure of its massive network of more than 5,000 retail locations, the group has no choice but to transparently address the accusations levied against it and take concrete steps to avoid further bad press, while diversifying into other high-potential segments and possibly amping up its higher-end acquisitions and investments. Basically, Peacebird needs to find a way to be more like rival JNBY – which is succeeding by aggressively tackling the lucrative minimalist professional market via its portfolio brand LESS, and which has also aimed to move beyond scandal through concrete group-wide action.

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