Survey: China, U.A.E. and Chile Top Emerging Markets for Fashion

H&M opens in Kunming Golden Eagle Shopping Plaza, China

H&M opens in Kunming Golden Eagle Shopping Plaza, China

Chicago—In the search for more markets to sell, China remains the biggest opportunity to sell apparel and accessories, though some Latin American and Middle Eastern countries offer “compelling opportunities” as well.

That’s the findings of the A.T. Kearney Retail Apparel Index, which identifies the top 10 developing countries ranked in the A.T. Kearney Global Retail Development Index in terms of market attractiveness, retail development, and country risk for their clothing retail industries.

“Since the last Retail Apparel Index in 2011, Western apparel retailers have increasingly looked for growth from developing markets, where apparel spending remains strong as disposable incomes rise,” said Michael Moriarty, A.T. Kearney partner and co-author of the study. “E-commerce has also developed significantly for both local and international players.”

Apparel Index Results China (#1) remains the top apparel market due to its market size and strong growth in apparel sales. Three trends have shaped China’s apparel market: “the rise of e-commerce, a boom in fast fashion, and the evolution of the luxury market.”

For example, according to Althea Peng, A.T. Kearney partner and study co-author, “In most emerging markets, e-commerce is less than 1% of total sales: in China, it is 6% which is higher than in the United States. More than three-quarters of online sales in China are in apparel.”

Opportunities in Latin America, Middle East

Over the last year several fast fashion retailers have aggressively expanded in China. Uniqlo opened 65 more stores in China in fiscal year 2012, bringing its total count to 145, and it plans to add 100 stores a year to reach 1,000 stores. H&M opened 52 stores in 2012 and Zara opened 37 stores. Gap has plans to open 35 stores in 2013.

China’s luxury market remains strong—it surpassed Japan to become the second largest luxury market in the world in 2012—but it is not growing as fast as in the past. A key reason is that a large portion of luxury purchases are made abroad, due to lower prices and a strong renminbi.

Latin America makes a strong position in the Apparel Index, too, led by Chile (#3), Brazil (#5), and Mexico (#9). Apparel retailers have aggressive expansion plans for the region. For instance, Gap, which currently has 36 Latin American stores (including 28 in Mexico and four in Chile), plans to open 30 more by 2014, including its first Brazilian store in 2013. Zara has 150 stores in Latin America (56 of which are in Mexico, and 39 in Brazil), including 12 new stores built in 2012.

Brazil is South America’s largest apparel market, with 42 billion in sales, compared to 14 billion for Mexico. The Brazil luxury market is forecast to grow to more than 48 billion by 2025. An issue for Brazil is that 80% of luxury purchases are made outside of the country due to import challenges, including high tariffs that increase the cost of imported products by a factor of almost three times, relative to the United States and France.

The Middle East region remains an attractive retail apparel market with the UAE (#2), Kuwait (#4), and Saudi Arabia (#6). Many retailers are testing their operations in the UAE before expanding to other Middle East countries due to its ease of doing business, sizeable retail segment, large expat community, and tourism. Several notable apparel openings occurred in the UAE in 2012, including Level Shore District, Prada, Muji, COS, Gap, Pomellato, Calvin Klein, Juicy Couture, and Destination Maternity. Bulgari and Bloomingdale’s plan new stores in Abu Dhabi this year.

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