27 Feb 2019
Chinese Consumers Go Bespoke (1): Team Sportswear an Expression of Core Values
Interview with Mason Mai, Founder of Yansu
Growing numbers of middle-class consumers are choosing custom-made products in China as their lifestyles improve. A survey by HKTDC Research on mainland middle-class consumers found that the largest proportion of respondents had ordered custom-made clothing among different categories of bespoke products.
Founded in May 2014, Yansu focuses on custom-made sportswear, sports equipment, trophies and related products. Its three core members all have more than 20 years of working experience in international firms, specialising in marketing, creative design and production management. Today, Yansu designs and produces custom sportswear and equipment for more than 100 sports organisations. Yansu’s founder Mason Mai spoke recently to HKTDC Research about the preferences of mainland consumers for bespoke sports products and the market potential for product customisation.
Targeting High-Growth Niche Market
“Health” is the keyword in mainland consumption in recent years. Distance running is popular among many middle-class consumers, who are willing to pay more for professional outfits. Mai is a distance runner himself. “When taking part in marathon and distance running, I noticed that many distance runners and running groups have a keen demand for sports gear upgrades and personalised products, but sports brands in the market can hardly satisfy their needs,” he said.
Yansu targets mid-to-high-end consumers who are willing to pay a price premium for professional sports gear and creative bespoke products. In order to meet their needs for creativity and uniqueness, Yansu devotes much attention to technological research and development and the choice of materials. For example, Yansu chooses a high-quality quick-dry fabric from Japan to make clothing for distance runners. This material is ultra-light and breathable, quite unlike ordinary quick-dry fabrics available in the market. For pattern design, Mai would wear the prototype when taking part in competitions and use his personal experience to improve upon the cutting and design. For example, he would use a special shoulder design and sewing technique to make comfortable, attractive quick-dry clothing.
Yansu also focuses on the development of sports-related products, such as cooling sleeves, waterproof bags and multi-functional quick-dry towels, so that long-distance running enthusiasts can have a wider choice of Yansu’s bespoke items and get a deeper impression of the company’s product-development capability in the sporting-goods field. A cap rack developed and designed by Yansu, for instance, has been awarded “utility model” and “design” patents in China and is well-liked by sports enthusiasts. More and more running groups are using Yansu’s bespoke products as their uniform and outfits in important races and daily activities.
Fostering Running Group Cultures
Consumers order custom-made products primarily as an expression of their personality and values. Unlike individually tailored products, however, uniforms and equipment ordered by running groups need to project their core values and cultures in order to give the groups a greater sense of pride and rallying force. “In most cases, customisation for small groups only involves the printing of logos on garments and is not real bespoke service for expressing individuality,” said Mai.
Since traditional sports brands have difficulty meeting the demands of small groups for bespoke services, Yansu has built a team of experienced designers with creative ideas. Team members not only need to know about running but must also be creative and skilled in copy design, graphic design and pattern design so they can deliver exclusive sportswear to individual running groups. “We need to communicate with the running groups several times before we can come up with designs showing their exclusive visual identity and logo and help build their exclusive culture and values,” said Mai. Yansu’s creative customisation is welcomed by many running groups, and good word-of-mouth has quickly spread in running circles.
Challenges Facing Bespoke Businesses
In traditional apparel manufacturing, the minimum order size is usually 1,000, but output is far smaller for custom-made products. Yansu’s order size ranges from a few dozen to several hundred. Since it does not have its own production plant, it needs to co-operate with factories with a good track record. Given the big difference in order size, bespoke businesses may have difficulty finding suitable manufacturers that are willing to accept small orders in the initial stage. Yansu has to be particularly careful when choosing suppliers because its unique designs often require manufacturers to have relevant experience. On the other hand, bespoke clothing requires new patterns to be designed for every order, and it is sometimes necessary to strike a balance between the prototype and design in order to ensure good quality control.
At present, factories willing to accept bespoke orders are mostly small and medium-sized businesses, which are less capable of working under pressure than big factories. A bespoke brand may need to go through the ordeal of finding a new manufacturer if the one it has been co-operating with suddenly goes out of business. “One of our founding members had worked as a supply chain manager for a big garment business before joining us. This is a big help to us in negotiating with suppliers in the initial stage, overseeing quality management and other aspects,” said Mai. A bespoke business with its own factory will be able to do even better in supply chain management and quality control, and be able to scale the brand faster.
 For more information, please refer to: China’s Middle-Class Consumers: Preferences and Spending Trends