Back to Guangzhou for the Canton Fair

After firing off an email to the organisers of the Canton Fair explaining how much I really enjoyed there entry process (see my previous visit to the Canton Fair), I got a fast response via email and an invite to return.

This time I registered for the Canton Fair (also known as The China Import and Export Fair) via there website from where I could print out the invitation, I don’t have a printer so I didn’t bother. Interestingly they promote the online registration service as being a ‘green’ initiative, hmmm, maybe they don’t know where paper comes from…

This time entering the Canton Fair was relativley smooth, apart from being sent to one desk and then another and then back, eventually I was in.  This session of the Canton Fair, theres three sessions, is for clothes, fashion accessories, shoes, bags and more. Each session runs over 5 days, and each session features thousands of manufacturers!

The Canton Fair has been running for 53 or so years and is held at a modern complex at Pazhou Island. The complex itself is enormous featuring 3 separate buildings located either side of Xingang East Road. The buildings are a representation of a modern and progressing China covering over 1 million square meters. Building A and B are joined to building C by a massive walk bridge above the road below which is long enough and wide enough to be serviced by a fleet of electric shuttles.

If China really is the worlds factory as many claim it to be then this is the worlds market! This is the place where major retailers from every corner of the globe come to do the deals that will fill the store shelves over the next year, discover new products and open new relationships.

To give another example of the scale of this place, the complex has it’s own hotel, endless coffee shops, restaurants and just for the fair there is a temporary McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks and Pizza Hut along with a few local fast food outlets all set up on the lower levels of the A building.

It was fascinating walking around the fair to see that Chinese manufacturers are moving on from simply copying designs of the major western and European brand names to now carving out their own brand identities. Many are quite proud of the fact that they are spending big on designers and it’s reflected in their marketing material, and also in their product design.

Although, theres no shortage of manufacturers making products aimed at a low price point, it’s only a minority of manufacturers that are bold enough to produce high quality products for the higher end of the market.

It’s interesting to see some of the young players in this area, many of who have been educated overseas, are well travelled and cultured, are driving this push into the high end product range. They are also growing up in an era when Chinas art industry is starting to flourish once again, and where there’s artists there’s designers. So, undoubtedly there’s going to be some interesting fashion goods come from this, unfortunately it’s going to be long time before Chinese manufacturers can re-brand themselves from manufacturers of affordable goods to manufacturers of luxury goods. In the mean time they’ll just have to market they’re efforts under European branding to sell it! I guess ‘made in China’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it as ‘made in italy’.

But then again, do they need to export? There’s a billion people live here and someone has to make the products to fill all these luxury brand retail malls I have seen throughout my travels…

After wandering around the Canton Fair for many hours and endless conversations with stall staff that are keen for a chat, I headed over to the nearby Jinhan Fair for Apparel, Textiles and Fashion Accessories. It’s nowhere near on the scale of the Canton Fair but it’s interesting nonetheless. Again, the smaller fairs seem to have many smaller boutique manufacturers who are producing some really interesting and unique products.

There was also a fashion show at the Jinhan Fair with an exhibition by one of Chinas new bold manufacturers who are trying to make the break into the high end market. They seem to have it right, for they’ve used a European theme throughout their branding and marketing with some bold designs to break the ice so to speak.