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Advice to new silk exporters.


If you wish to penetrate the international market for silk products, and do so on a profitable basis, you must give close attention to certain basic marketing techniques and be familiar with the special features of this trade. Many silk companies in developing countries could be taking greater advantage of the export opportunities that exist for silk items such as scarves, ties and printed fabrics. By following foreign market trends closely, improving your products in line with these trends, presenting your ranges in a systematic manner and providing the necessary marketing support, you should be able to command higher prices for your goods and thereby increase your export profits.

What does marketing include?

Successful export marketing of silk products involves five key factors: the product itself, price, service, personal sales work and promotion. For many new silk-producing companies wishing to enter export markets, problems exist in all of these areas. Your product may not be as good as it should be, and therefore you must set a low price; your service to the buyer may not be at the level required; and personal sales work and promotion may not exist. This situation can be changed over a period of a few years, if you start working on the problem now. Each of the five marketing factors can be approached in a logical way, leading to an improved exporting position. The following are some suggestions on what you can do.

The product

Your product is the number one issue that you must tackle when you decide to develop successful export business. After improving the quality of the product you can proceed to add a fashion touch to it. Then, when this is accomplished, you should prepare a collection. Finally, you should consider developing a trademark for your product to make it known on the market.

To develop and improve your product, you need team work between your sales people and your designers. Your product must be designed from the very beginning with the final customer in mind - the one who buys it in a shop. You have to decide what your company's line is: Are you making inexpensive products for the mass market, or high-class products? You have to decide if you are producing them for girls under 20 years of age or career women over 25. You should know if your main customer is in the United States, in Europe or in Japan, because the tastes in these markets are very different. It may be necessary to have different collections for each market area. No successful company makes any products without knowing for whom they are meant.

A collection

When you have defined your target market segment and adapted your product accordingly, you should develop collections to market to those sectors.

What is a "collection"? It is a group of designs especially produced for a certain season, i.e. spring 1991, autumn 1991, spring 1992. A collection must give customers a good representative idea of what your company can offer them.

The "total look" of the collection is of utmost importance. If it is not "correct," that is, if it does not immediately give customers the wish to know more about you and to acquaint themselves better with your products, the collection has not been developed in the right way. The customers in this case will not be interested.

The collection should consist of only first-class products that are designed for a specific selling season, spring 1991 for instance. Old or second-class products should not be included. Forecasts of colour and other fashion trends exist for each season. There is a definite change in fashion twice a year. This change must be clearly seen in each collection. A collection must not include any colours or lines that do not suit the specific season for which the collection is made.

A collection of silk articles - whether scarves, ties, blouses, shirts or other items - should be composed of enough, but not too many, designs. It is difficult to say exactly how many, but roughly each collection for each article should consist of 40 to 60 designs to be appealing to a customer. And each must be especially made or adapted for that season.

Very few companies make only one collection for each fashion season. More and more they present two collections each season, which means a total of four per year. Some - the very fast-moving fashion firms - make as many as ten collections annually, so they show a new range to customers nearly every month. Of course, each separate collection is quite small in these cases.

If your company has not had a collection before, I suggest that as a start you put all of your effort into presenting one for each season, i.e. two collections annually. Even firms that bring out two collections each season usually present one main collection, with the second being more or less an addition to the first, and much smaller.

Fashion information

To make a collection for a particular season you need fashion information. The minimum information you require is the fashion forecast produced by a reputable forecasting company. Fashion forecast information is rather expensive, but the investment is worth it. Different types of forecasts may be obtained. Those on colour influences, which are available in published form, cover the most necessary information and would probably be sufficient to start with. If you feel that these books are too expensive for your company to buy alone, you could purchase them together with other companies, or a trade promotion agency or trade association could buy the information. To design for future years, you must get fashion material continuously.

In addition, to understand what a fashion forecaster is saying, to understand how to combine new colours, to know which kinds of designs are suitable for your factory, to integrate all of this information and to make your own decisions based on it, your designers should get additional information. Designers in silk companies should travel, for instance to Europe - Paris and Milan - and should subscribe to some international fashion magazines.

For each new fashion season I personally get my information from many sources: fashion fairs; window shopping, mostly in Paris and Milan; street fashion - by watching what people are wearing in these two cities; art exhibitions; historical reviews of fashion trends; movies and television series; fashion magazines - I buy five different magazines from four countries - France, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States; and fashion forecasts issued by specialized firms such as Promostyl in Paris and International Colour Authority in London.

I "melt" all of this information in my head and then decide what I personally believe in, what I like (because it is difficult to design anything that you yourself do not like). I select the part of this information that suits my products, i.e. scarves and ties. Since I use only silk as my material, I cannot get excited about designs and colours that are meant, for example, for the "hottest" so-called "street fashion" for young people who do not want to buy a high-class silk scarf, no matter how fashionable the colours or the design might be.


When you have made the effort to improve your products and to design a collection, you should also take the step of developing a good trademark for your silk products. Each company should have its own trademark. Building a trademark is of utmost importance and a part of your product and your collection.

Think carefully before you decide on a trademark, and if possible consult specialists in marketing. What might sound international to your ear may not always be appealing to major foreign buyers. The trademark should sound "high class" and be easy to pronounce in different languages. It should be simple in text and in design.

Trademarks of one word are better than those of several, unless they are a real name like mine, which is the trademark of my company. Most of the fashion trademarks are only one word, for instance, Dior, Hermes, Lanvin, Ungaro, Armani, Valentino, Krizia. But there are also two-word names such as Calvin Klein, Liz Claiborne, Gianni Versace ... all names of real persons.


You can, of course, decide to export your silk products at a low price. In this case the quality of your product does not have to be very high, and you do not have to work hard on improving your product. But this approach also means that you are at the mercy of the large company international buyers who go from one company to another, and from country to country, in search of the lowest price. Selling at a low price does not usually bring in enough money to improve the production and marketing situation of your company.

If you have high-quality, fashionable products, and a good collection for each selling season, it is easy - I repeat it is easy - to put a higher price on your products. It also means that you are starting to create, build and maintain your own trademark, and that, little by little, consumers will start to ask for your products. After that you will not have to worry about negotiating with the international buyers about how low you will be willing to price your work. If your products are good, you do not have to price them low.


Service to your buyers is another important element in export success. Service means giving assistance to your customers to sell your products. The more they sell of them, the more you sell.

Efficient service means that your delivery times are short, you actually deliver when you promised to do so, you have sample material available when the customer needs it, you deliver only first-class products, you reply to all inquiries immediately and you do everything to satisfy your customer's needs.

Personal sales work

Personal sales work is also a key aspect of exporting. It is becoming more and more important as competition gets tougher. In the context of export marketing, personal sales work refers to the impression that your company representatives make when meeting foreign buyers, either on overseas marketing trips or in your showroom at home.

Not only do your representatives need to present themselves well (with a neat outfit and a tidy personal appearance). In addition, your sales material must look professional, and your collection must be in order. When you show your collection to a foreign buyer, are the articles clearly marked and is the overall collection attractively arranged? When the customer wants information on prices, delivery times and so on, can your representative give this to him without delay? Is all of the required information available?

Personal sales work is also knowing the manner in which to deal with foreign buyers. When a foreign buyer comes into your showrooms and wants to order, for example, twill silk shirts, if your company representative simply says, "We don't have twill silk shirts," the buyer goes away. A sale is lost unnecessarily. Your representative should have said, "We have not made twill silk shirts in the past, but we shall be glad to do so for you. We have many nice sample shirts in crepe that could be produced in twill. If you have a minute, I would be glad to show them to you. Please sit down and make yourself comfortable." This is an example of good personal sales work.

Even by improving in a small way the sales work of your representatives, you may well distinguish your company from others.


Promotion has no meaning unless all of the basic elements are already in good order, i.e. the product is good, the price is correct in relation to quality and service is faultless.

In promotional activities the important factors are how you advertise your new collections, how you present your products at international fairs, how you keep your customers informed about new developments in your products and your company, how you keep the press and other media interested in you, and how your letters and other printed material look. All of this is vital, but only after everything else related to the product is in order.

Schedule for a collection

When the steps above have been completed, the production and marketing cycle starts.

The schedule for the overall production must be set in relation to the delivery time. The shorter the delivery time, the better for the customer. The risk that a customer has to take when placing an order is of course smaller, the closer to the new fashion season the order is placed. If you want to increase your company's exports, you should make every effort to shorten your delivery times. You can then compete more strongly on the world market.

For exports of silk products, a delivery time of four months is usually the maximum that is acceptable. When it is longer, your company is at a clear disadvantage vis-a-vis competitors. The exact timing differs somewhat depending on the specific silk articles.

The development of a collection starts, as mentioned above, with the designer collecting information; it continues with design decisions based on all of the information acquired and on discussions with the sales staff; this is followed by the actual designing and then the production of samples. Finally the collection is ready so that the marketing staff can start selling. If all has gone well in this process, export profits can be reaped four to six months later.

The chart on page 15 illustrates the timing for the preparation of a collection. The schedule varies a little from country to country, but the general pattern is basically the same. The main point in this planning is knowing when your customers - if they are wholesalers - need their sample material to be able to sell, and when they subsequently need the products that they have ordered on the basis of the samples. The chart illustrates how important it is to keep to your production schedule, how essential it is for your customers to get samples in time and how necessary it is for you to adhere to the delivery times that you have quoted to buyers.

In many countries wholesale companies play an important role in the overall marketing system for silk products. They often take a risk - a very large one - by placing their orders with you before they have actually sold the goods. To sell to retailers, they need samples. They must therefore get your samples as early as possible to be able to start selling. Samples are also important for large companies (such as departments stores and chain stores) that sell silk products through mail-order catalogues in addition to sales through their shops. They need samples far ahead of the selling season to photograph for their catalogues.

When the actual orders are to be delivered, if you do not keep to your schedule, your customers will not have products to sell. Their own clients will not wait until next month - instead they will go out and buy from some other source. If your customers get the products too late and therefore are unable to sell them any more, they have to put them on sale at the end of the season and thus lose money. Also - in the case of wholesale companies - their own customers will not want to deal with them again if they receive the goods late. So delivery time is a serious matter that affects not only profits of a specific season but also profits over a much longer period of time.

The problems of delivery times that are too long and - even of more concern - that are later than those agreed to in the sales contract are issues that export companies in the silk business should tackle as a matter of priority.

An example

I was recently assigned to help a silk factory in an Asian country make a fashionable scarf collection for spring 1991. How this was achieved illustrates the process for developing a collection. My task was to turn an old scarf into a fashionable one for spring 1991. The scarf designs that already existed were very beautiful, artistic and excellently executed, but the colours had often been chosen wrongly. The reason was that the designers had not travelled outside of their country, so they were not familiar with the colours worn in Western Europe and North America. Also the designers did not have any information concerning fashion, and fashion information is compulsory to make designs that can be sold to major international buyers.

Since the old designs of this particular factory were quite beautiful, and some of them were suitable for the spring 1991 collection, it was decided to use existing designs and work on new colour combinations.

When I started to design new colour combinations for the silk factory, I examined the fashion forecasts of both Promostyl and International Colour Authority. I also went through my own ideas about spring 1991 fashion and decided what colour combinations I would use. I decided to use the colours of the fashion forecasts but not their colour combination ideas.

Several fashion themes or trends will predominate in spring 1991, which is the case for each separate fashion season. The new colour combinations that I decided to use included four of the five basic colour ranges identified in the fashion forecast of Promostyl. I left out dark colours, although they are important for spring 1991, because they require a specific kind of design that the silk factory did not have in their collection - the design and colour combination ideas must always match. Furthermore the colours of that particular range could be too dark for a scarf. I also used the four colour themes from the International Colour Authority fashion forecast for spring 1991, but all with my own modifications - I changed some colours, and left others out.

It is often necessary to prepare one or two colour combinations before deciding if they look good or not. What makes everything much more complicated is that in each colour combination you have to decide which colours you will emphasize. To be able to do this, the designer needs all possible information from different sources.

Since the number of colours varied in the different scarf designs that I was working on. I sometimes had to increase the number of colours in my original colour combination ideas and other times had to use fewer colours.

In this process I constantly kept in mind that I was making colour combinations for scarves. Garments rarely are as colourful as scarves - an important consideration in scarf design. People often buy a scarf to give a special fashion touch to their old outfits. I continuously remind myself when I am designing that I am not making a whole outfit. Instead I am designing something which - when worn - will be a small detail of the outfit.

The end result of my work for this silk factory was very good. The scarves I had coloured with spring 1991 fashion colours were very attractive - the new colours made an enormous difference.

In this case old designs could be used. The existing collection of the company was so large that it was not difficult to find designs that were suitable for the new one. Of course, the situation may not be the same in other companies. But often, if you have a large old collection, you can choose designs from it and "paint" them with new colours for the new fashion season. This is a good way to start when you want to make a fashionable collection for each new season. In my opinion this approach is sufficient to prove to your customers that you have a new way of doing things, that you know about the coming fashion.

Other applications: I have been talking about scarves and about a special case. I believe, however, that the same idea could easily be adapted to silk ties and printed fabrics.

To be able to choose the correct designs for the spring 1991 silk tie collection, for instance, you have to know what the tie fashion will be in spring 1991. It is not enough to choose just any designs and make new fashionable colour combinations. The same applies to fabrics.

It is not as easy, however, to use old garment designs and modify them into fashionable products. But I think that you can adapt this case - if you are designing silk garments - by taking designs that you have from earlier seasons, and modifying them. In the case of garments, your company designers can learn a lot from foreign customers. When representatives of foreign companies visit your factory, listen to what they say about collars, sleeves and pockets, and about how the garment should fit. This is one of the best, easiest and least expensive ways for you to learn about foreign markets. Obtain as much information as you can about fashion and adapt it when you make your own collection.

PHOTO : Handling operations are simpler and safer for air shipments than for sea transport.

PHOTO : Many silk firms in developing countries could benefit to a greater extent from market opportunities.

PHOTO : A collection must give your customers a representative idea of what your company can offer them.

PHOTO : It is easy to put a higher price on products that are high in quality and fashionable.

PHOTO : Promotion has no meaning unless all of the basic marketing elements are in good order.

PHOTO : Personal sales work is becoming more and more important as competition increases.
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Silk Marketing
Author:Kurki, Marja
Publication:International Trade Forum
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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