Chinese fabric and garment manufacturer Shandong Nanshan believes collaboration is the route to success. Instead of competing with Europe, the company advocates forging partnerships to connect with consumers in new markets, revitalising the wool textile industry in the process. Jonathan Dyson finds out more.
Shandong Nanshan, one of China’s leading fabric and garment companies, is attracting a growing number of high-end customers to its Filarte fabric range, created by a team of Italian designers at the company’s Milan office.
Based in Shandong province in the East China region, Shandong Nanshan weaves 25 million metres of fabric per year and claims to be the largest producer of fine fabrics in China. It is increasingly focused on collaboration with other parts of the textile world and is a key supporter of the Campaign for Wool that launched in China in March.
The Filarte collection features Italian-style cloths exclusively in natural fibres, including Super 110s, 130s, 150s and 180s wool, as well as linen, cotton, cashmere and silk. Glen checks, window checks and pinstripes appear in a wide colour range for overseas customers and standard colours such as black, grey and blue for Chinese customers. Technical features include natural stretch and anti-UV.
For spring/summer 2013 the Filarte collection features a diverse range of fabrics in wool/cotton and seersucker cotton, as well as wool/linen jacketing and blazer fabrics, with light grey, blues and olive shades all prominent.
“Filarte is designed for top level customers,” says Riyou Song, general manager of Shandong Nanshan. He says that 60% of Filarte fabrics are sold into overseas markets, including Italy, France, Spain, Germany, the UK, Poland, Japan, the US, Australia, South Africa and South America. Overseas customers include Prada, Zegna and Versace in Italy, and Berwin & Berwin in the UK.
Riyou adds that the Filarte range is also increasingly sought-after in China, “as more and more Chinese garment companies want to incorporate international, and especially Italian, trends.”
Shandong Nanshan is part of the Nanshan Group, a major conglomerate with operations in aluminium, energy, hotels and tourism. Exhibiting at Première Vision for the third time in February, the company had two separate booths - one for its Filarte brand and the other for its Nanshan brand. The company also exhibits at Intertextile Beijing and Shanghai Apparel Fabrics.
The Nanshan brand features Super 80s, 100s and 120s wool cloths, as well as wool/polyester and wool/polyamide blends, in key colours such as blue, grey and black. The fabrics are created by the company’s design team in China. Customers can work together with Shandong Nanshan on the designs. Riyou explains that there is also a stock yarn service for Nanshan fabrics, meaning shorter lead times, so that a customer can place a late order for the fabric with little risk.
Around 50% of Nanshan fabrics are sold to Chinese customers, with the other 50% going to brands overseas. The US is the main market, according to Riyou.
Shandong Nanshan first established the Nanshan fabric brand in 1978, initially producing polyester fabrics and blankets, before expanding into wool fabrics. Riyou explains that the company capitalised on the growing demand in China for high-quality suits in natural fibres. “We recognised the growing opportunities for wool fabrics and invested in machinery from Germany and Switzerland,” he says.
In 1999, it doubled capacity from 10 to 20 million metres, as China’s rapid urban growth accelerated demand and the middle-class became increasingly fashion conscious.
The Filarte brand was then founded in 2007 to help establish the company in the luxury sector and attract designer brands in key global markets. The fabrics are created by a team of Italian designers called Desstyl, and, according to Riyou, are produced in China under the guidance of five Italian technicians, who oversee the spinning, weaving, dyeing and finishing processes.
Over the last five years, the company has also extended its production upstream, establishing an agreement with an Australian wool producer for the supply of wool fibres ranging from Super 80s to 180s, as well as processing the wool to produce wool tops. Further downstream, Shandong Nanshan has moved into garment production. “We can now take the raw wool through all the processes in order to produce fabrics and garments,” explains Riyou.
Shandong Nanshan expanded into suits in 2008 and today produces 5 million per year for customers in China, as well as several overseas markets, including the US and Italy.
The company has three garment brands: Paul Betenly, which Shandong hopes will become ‘the Zegna of China’; Bosa Magine, which Riyou describes as a new generation brand inspired by Dolce & Gabbana; and Mens Planet, which Riyou compares with Boggi Milano, adding that it is for consumers “with lower salaries but who want top brands.”
As Shandong Nanshan continues to expand, Riyou says that working collaboratively will continue to be an increasingly important element of the company’s strategy. He points to a new programme with the Italian textile company Marzotto in which Shandong Nanshan is cooperating with Marzotto to help establish it as a key supplier of corporate wear fabric in China.
“We don’t see ourselves as a competitor of Italy,” Riyou says. “The world is too small to compete. It’s more important to work together.”
He says that establishing its Milan office has been part of Shandong Nanshan’s strategy to become a more international brand and also to help expand its range of customers. “Through our Milan office we connect with our Italian design team as well as with our European customers,” he says. The company also recently opened an office in New York.
Asked about the contrasting heritage of the Italian and Chinese textile industries, Riyou says it is important to look at the development of the wool textile industry in China in its historical context: “The wool textile industry started in the UK and it was number one in the world for many years. Then the Italians followed the British industry and it was to become the biggest centre.
“Now China is the biggest producer of wool textiles and tomorrow there could be another Asian country that is number one. There is always a cycle.”
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