Blazing new trails

by Elise Diamantini

What we can learn from the Chinese

Nanshan compound in China

The Nanshan Group, a huge Chinese manufacturing conglomerate known best to the American market as the maker of Paul Betenly suits, recently celebrated 30 years in business. I witnessed the importance of their smart and efficient work ethic firsthand on a recent trip to China, where I visited the group’s facilities for the company’s anniversary celebration.

Chinese-made apparel has evolved from disposable and cheap to high quality goods at various prices. Despite competition from countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, which have lower labor costs, and because of appreciating currency in China, Nanshan Group says they still have the advantage. They’re a vertically integrated company, with control over every step of the process. They’re capable of creating product from beginning (they own a sheep pasture in Australia) to end (wholesale production and retail stores).

Nanshan workersNanshan prides itself on offering better men’s retailers a strong price/value relationship resulting in healthy margins for the store. Paul Betenly wholesales half-canvas constructed suits for $185 to $205 that can retail anywhere from $495 to $695. Most impressive to me was that they bring in professional experts from Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. who each have different areas of expertise in apparel production.

The Nanshan Group has a lot planned for 2012, including a made-to-measure program, a higher-end tailored clothing line and a contemporary sportswear line. In China, Nanshan tested made-to-measure within Fashion Plaza at Filarte Sartoria, an M2M store for suiting and shirting that uses their own Filarte fabric. Based on that success, M2M for the U.S. is slated for some time in 2012. Also on the horizon is Owen Miller, a higher-end tailored clothing collection. Pieces will be made from Italian fabrics, with half-canvas construction and more hand detailing operations on the sleeves, shoulders and collar settings. Although pricepoints weren’t confirmed at press time, sportcoats are predicted to wholesale for around $300 and suits around $450. As for a sportswear offering, Nanshan has that covered, too. Currently available in over 500 top greengrass stores and golf resorts is Aristo 18, a sportswear line that has gained popularity among golfers. The collection comprises dress slacks, casual slacks, walk shorts, etc. In contemporary sportswear, Nanshan is launching its Bosa Magine line, a contemporary collection available only in Asia that will make its U.S. debut in 2012.

What’s in store?

Paul Betenly store in ChinaThere are 16 Paul Betenly stores in China, two of which are in Beijing and sit next to high-end retailers like Lane Crawford and Louis Vuitton. In Asia, the brand is a forward, contemporary lifestyle collection focused on sportswear (though there are tailored pieces too). This particular store opened in March 2011 and is considered more of a marketing expense than a volume driver. Head designer for Paul Betenly’s Chinese line, Mr. Ding designed the entire store and styles all of the looks on display. Stores carry the entire 160 piece collection with merchandise changing six times a season. Fabrics for the line are sourced in Europe and made in other factories in China. (Once the factories at Nanshan are fully capable of manufacturing sportswear all of Paul Betenly will be made there. In the meantime, Nanshan workers are trained to make sportswear by producing uniforms for both state and Nanshan employees.) They average 330,000 woven shirts (max is 500,000 as of right now) and 500,000 to 600,000 sportswear pieces a year, but are working on increasing production.

Fast facts

• Established in 1978
• Nanshan is a 26 sq. mile compound filled with seven hotels, six golf courses, a cultural center, vineyard, aluminum factories, Nanshan University (which has 35,000 students), power plants, three park areas, over 20 residential areas, etc.
• Concept shops for each of the brands (Bosa Magine, Paul Betenly, Mens Planet and Filarte Sartoria) show how to create visuals and merchandise all of the franchised stores.
Sal Giardina• Nanshan apparel manufacturing capabilities include: textile mills (two wool mills with 150,000 worsted wool yarn spinners: Natsun for high volume and Filarte mill to produce fabrics with low minimums); product inspection and testing facilities; tailored, sportswear and shirting factories (including a factory just for North American production, which employs 550 workers just for this market, with plans to hire 150 more workers); and a shipping warehouse.
• Employees complete a three-month training program and to maintain quality control, workers are trained to do only one task extremely well.
• Factories are all equipped with Eton systems, which expedite production process by automatically moving goods to the next step.
• They own nearly 60 companies, leading industries of aluminum, textiles, garments, finance, real estate, education and tourism: sightseeing, recreation, vacation, star hotel groups, exhibition services, golf, etc.
• Nanshan Textile Industrial Park occupies 300,000 sq. meters and employees 10,000 people.
• Nanshan owns a pasture in Australia which allows them to control the fibers.
• Garment division: 7 mills, 14 garment production lines with 4,000 sets of equipment and total capacity of 5 million sets.
The Nanshan spirit is described as “loyal, responsible, diligent and dedicated. With the lead and support of entrepreneurs, the new generation will consistently blaze new trails, take an enterprising road emancipating the mind, an opening road oriented to the world, and an innovative road building a beautiful world.” Nanshan’s mission explains that they’re ready to prosper and the goal is to offer retailers the best quality goods at competitive prices.