How two Alumni combined their expertise to re-launch a heritage brand in China.
Tell us about your CEIBS experience.
Fréderic Guiral de Haas:
I joined CEIBS and started my EMBA programme in Beijing in 2001 – at that time I was Chief Rep China for a French marketing company based in Beijing. I moved to Shanghai by 2002 and finished my 2 year course there. So, I had the opportunity to live the very early days of CEIBS in Beijing when classes where taught in an off-site campus as well as study at the Shanghai CEIBS campus when it was still located in the country-side! It is now right in the center of a vibrant and international community: Jinqiao.
Before moving to Shanghai in early 2018, I lived in Ghana for several years, and that’s where I did my CEIBS programme. In fact, the acronym AFEMBA stands for Africa EMBA. My cohort of 2015 was the last of its kind, in 2016 it evolved into the Zurich GEMBA with Accra remaining one of the global CEIBS campuses that modules are taught on. Credible sources confirm that I’m the only German to have ever graduated from the Africa campus and I feel incredibly privileged to have lived that experience.
What about your career background? How did you both start the businesses you’re running today?
I moved to Hong Kong in 1990. After almost 10 years in Hong Kong running small businesses, I moved to Beijing in 1999 and started my EMBA with CEIBS in 2001. In 2003 we moved back to Hong Kong where we settled as a family. I worked in FMCG and in various regional positions before coming back to China in 2016 as CEO China of JACK WOLFSKIN, a German outdoor apparel brand. In 2018 I saw an opportunity in the market and realized that although the outdoor and sports market is very crowded in China (800 brands in 2015), the luxury winter jacket market was a de facto monopoly of 2 brands: Moncler and Canada Goose. And that customers are hungry for something different. Maybe a more reasonable price point with a high diversity of styles and design.
We decided to introduce NIVOSE in China. NIVOSE is a French “Mountain Chic” heritage brand which dates back to 1933. We acquired the worldwide rights of the brand as well as the heritage part and launched it back in China, in France and other key markets from AW19.
The specificities of NIVOSE is that it is a French brand with a very strong French DNA, but that we decided to launch it as a digital native brand in China. Our efforts are about selling online. We did open stores, but they are more about O2O experience than deploying a retail network.
NIVOSE is a category brand and we intend to become the top of the mind brand in our category: fashion warm winter jackets.
After some short work experiences in the U.S. and in Germany, I lived and worked in Italy for 15 years. I started my journey in the advertising industry in global agency networks.
In 2008, I joined an independent start-up agency. We started to work on some projects for the West African market with one of our clients and that eventually led to us launching the agency in Ghana so I moved there in 2013. After 3 exciting years of building the agency there, I joined Publicis West Africa to develop their digital business.
In early 2018 I came to China. At first, it was in adventure mode. I had played with the idea of living here for a long time and after finishing my CEIBS programme, I finally decided to move here to explore opportunities. Things came together quickly and not long after arriving I met my current business partners (who were introduced to me by a fellow CEIBSer) at Branding Records. Their mission to build strong and globally competitive brands in China resonated with my idea of how to leverage my international experience, and after a few months of collaborating with the Hong Kong based team, we launched the Shanghai office together. It’s been a great journey, we have a growing and talented multi-cultural team and are working with businesses in many different industries to support them with their branding and communications needs in this constantly evolving market.
How did you meet? What was the “pain point” to be solved?
We met through CEIBS GEMBA activities first – so it was first about meeting in a more social setting as CEIBS Alumni. Then as we were moving forward with our project of launching NIVOSE in China we realized we needed a professional marketing company to help us define the platform of the brand. Tina and her company organized a workshop for us. They went far and beyond to understand us, to help us and we felt that they totally understood what we wanted to do. Tina’s company really invested time and energy in our project and of course as any start up we appreciate all the support we can get.
From then on whenever we had a branding related topic to discuss it became quite a straight forward thing and we would just contact Tina and her team.
We had met a few times at Alumni activities but never really talked about the details of our work so I was pleasantly surprised when I heard from Fréderic one day enquiring whether we wanted to support them with defining their brand’s relaunch in China.
We started to learn more about what Fréderic and his team were doing and I immediately loved the project, it has all the right ingredients for a successful brand. Their products’ quality is outstanding and they have an interesting story to tell, with the brand rooted in decades of French style. That combined with the understated technology that is in every detail of their products makes for something unique.
There’s a common misconception that branding is an afterthought, something that is fabricated in the minds of marketers from scratch. The truth is, really good brands have all the great stuff in them already, our job is just to bring it out, to state it clearly and to make sure people can experience it.
Can you share any anecdotes?
An aspect I would highlight about our collaboration is the way our teams clicked with each other. I think we’re both lucky to have really dedicated and passionate people to work with and that is so important. Good work can only come from collaborations based on trust and respect, you won’t be able to create anything remarkable from a transactional business relationship.
What’s next for your business?
Develop the presence on the market, expand to a few more cities in China our off-line presence and be able to promote our unique “styling service”. NIVOSE private styling consultant will come and visit you in your office, your home… wherever you want him to come and will present your selection of the NIVOSE collection to you. You can try your favorite style, ensure you like the color that the size fits. And then order on our WeChat NIVOSE store. We feel this is the future of dedicated service for selective consumers in China.
A trend that we’re starting to see are local brands that are looking outside of their domestic market. It’s gradually the turn of Chinese brands to go global now and that’s an exciting opportunity for us as well. We are working with a couple of companies on their expansion into other Asian and European markets already and I’m sure several others will follow soon.
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