Just Imagine, Paul Smith returns to China

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Paul Smith is returning to China in a second attempt to win over the republic’s growing army of discerning consumers.

The British fashion brand plans to open 24 new stores in China, including a 5,000 sq ft megastore in Shanghai.

ImagineX, which introduces Western brands to the Far East, will run the stores as a franchise.

“This is the right time to join the race,” said Balbina Wong, chief executive of ImagineX.

“Chinese consumers are becoming more sophisticated and brand-conscious.

“China’s overall GDP may slow, but the middle-class is growing.”

The company retreated from China five years ago.

Speaking at the time, founder Sir Paul Smith told the Financial Times that the market was “extremely dangerous” with very high rents and a population that largely wanted “clothes to cover their bodies”.

ImagineX said the Chinese market is now bigger and more mature than in 2007.

Consumer demand for high-end Western goods are driving sales at companies like Burberry, which makes its iconic heritage trenchcoats in Castleford, West Yorkshire.

Burberry has been one of Britain’s biggest success stories in China in recent years.

Paul Smith already has a strong presence in the region, with stores in Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Commentators said the company will have to demonstrate “some serious marketing savvy” to appeal to China’s wealthy thirty and fortysomething consumers, the target demographic for rivals such as Prada and Salvatore Ferragamo.

Paul Smith has had a store in the Victoria Quarter, Leeds, since 2007.

The company has long-lasting links with Yorkshire.

Paul Smith’s first tailor was a company called Atkinson Rhodes in New York Street.

And Yorkshire Bank lent the company £10,000 to open its first flagship store in Covent Garden.

Sir Paul Smith opened his first store in his home town of Nottingham in 1970.