China’s agricultural region becomes the ‘capital of lingerie’
Americans like their lingerie to be daring, Europeans prefer it more chic and the Chinese are a little shy but open up.
The same goes for the talk around the corner in Guanyun, a sleepy coastal county that has for generations followed the rhythms of wheat and rice cultivation in eastern Jiangsu Province, but cares about it. today global preferences for sensual wear.
The flat farming region is China’s self-proclaimed “lingerie capital”, where sewing machines are buzzing in village-level micro-factories to meet 70% of the rapidly growing domestic demand.
Millions of additional items are exported each year in a classic example of the ability of Chinese internet-connected entrepreneurs to capitalize on even the most quirky idea.
The man widely credited with igniting the spark is Lei Congrui, a 30-year-old with a ponytail and cap who would look at home on a skateboard. It all happened almost by accident.
As a teenager, Lei started making extra money selling various consumer goods on the rapidly growing e-commerce sites in China 15 years ago.
“Customers kept asking us if we had lingerie. I had never heard of it before, but I just said ‘yes’ and then looked for what it was, ”he said.
Lei “found a way” and now employs over 100 workers who push black and red lace panties and bustiers through sewing machines. His brands such as “Midnight Charm” generate more than $ 1.5 million in annual revenue, he said.
The success of early actors like Lei inspired an industrial revolution.
Guanyun’s government claims that there are now more than 500 factories employing tens of thousands of people and producing more than US $ 300 million of lingerie annually.
“ Attitudes are catching up ”
Market consultancy iiMedia said Chinese online sales of sex-related products increased by 50% in 2019 to reach US $ 7 billion. He predicted an additional 35% growth in 2020 despite the pandemic disruptions.
“Young people’s attitudes catch up and bring sensuality to the house. (Lingerie) is becoming popular, ”said Li Yue, a worker at a local lingerie factory.
When Lei first started in business, most of the buyers were over 30 years old and many had lived abroad or had been exposed to foreign uses.
But around 2013, volumes exploded as young Chinese consumers began to experience their sensuality, Lei said. Most buyers are now between 22 and 25 years old.
Initially, loose and not too revealing models were favored in China. Today, semi-transparent and “tight” figures dominate.
‘Everyone loves lingerie’
Guanyun’s industrial reinvention did not happen overnight. The early pioneers struggled to hire local staff.
“When they first came into contact with these things, they didn’t quite get it,” said Chang Kailin, 58, who runs a factory and is Lei’s uncle.
“But once the industry got bigger and stronger, people were able to make money and get rid of poverty.
“Now everyone loves him.”
Lei exports 90 percent of its production, mainly to the United States and Europe.
Large volumes are also going to South America, where sales indicate role-playing costumes dominate the bedroom.
Middle Eastern shoppers – who prefer longer, more modest items – are also surprisingly active, as are Africans, who love pops of color. Southeast Asia is also growing rapidly.
‘Ready to play again’
Lingerie transformed Guanyun, with factories sprouting next to wheat fields, and new wealth displayed in new homes and cars.
Previously, many of the county’s roughly 1 million people left for the hard life of a migrant worker in factories far away. No more, said Li, the garment worker.
“Working away from home makes you homesick,” said the mother of two. “These companies allow us to come home to work. It’s not easy there.”
Guanyun feeds his golden hen.
It broke new ground on a $ 500 million, 690 hectare lingerie-themed industrial zone that “will integrate R&D and design, fabric accessories, e-commerce operations, warehousing and logistics.”
Last year’s pandemic lockdowns hit production. It has since roared, but demand remains lukewarm in overseas markets still struggling with the coronavirus as home consumers focus their spending on basic necessities, Lei said.
“Once these issues are resolved,” he said with a smile, “they’ll be ready to play again.”