Surfing brand on the crest of a wave

by Nicole Wong

Tony Yan, general manager, Hong Kong, Rip Curl

The sports apparel industry is gathering momentum as the Asia market gains prominence

The world's champion surfers may not be riding the waves rolling on to Hong Kong's southern beaches, but that has not stopped the city being a major attraction for one of the world's leading surfing brands. Rip Curl, which is known internationally for its distinctive styles and sharp fashion sense, has ambitious plans to expand its business in markets around the world. To do that, the company has selected Hong Kong as a centre for certain key operations and, in March this year, set up an office to handle global sourcing and development.

"Most of the work in those areas was previously done through agents, but now we are taking it in-house," says Tony Yan, general manager of Hong Kong, Rip Curl. Setting up the new Hong Kong office has therefore been an important part of the company's business strategy. Although they already own manufacturing facilities in Thailand, their main focus to date has been on design work, with other parts of the manufacturing process outsourced to specialist factories.

Now, by strengthening its sourcing and development activities in Hong Kong, the company believes it will have the ideal platform to explore the US market further and to grow its business elsewhere. "We are known as one of the top three surfing brands in the world," Mr Yan says. "The current goal is to consolidate our market position and competitive edge, especially in view of the challenge presented by up and coming surfing brands."

New opportunities

Currently, Rip Curl has major retail stores in Australia, New Zealand, France and other European countries. Plans for the next two years call for six to eight new retail outlets in the US plus the establishment of business relationships with additional distributors. "There will definitely be a big push in that area in the next few years," Mr Yan confirms.

As a leader in surfing fashion trends, the company will also broaden its range of products for different global markets, while maintaining production and sales of its consistently popular core items.

With business expansion on the way, most new recruits in Hong Kong will be involved in development, merchandising and production, and will work alongside in-house designers. At present, the company is looking to hire design staff, IT and finance professionals, and high-calibre candidates for other administrative positions. There is also urgent need of good merchandisers, who have been hard to find since the lifting of textile quotas on China at the start of the year.

"In the past, most companies could find experienced merchandisers, but nowadays the demand for such people is outstripping supply," Mr Yan explains. "Anyone with a solid background in the apparel industry, good fashion sense, a keen eye for high-quality products, and an understanding of factory procedures will be much sought after."

Future development

In general terms, he notes that Hong Kong, with its flow of tourists and reputation as a shopper's paradise, is an excellent location for any retail business that is looking to expand. Rip Curl is already assessing when to open its first retail store locally and aims to do so as soon as the right opportunity comes up. The company will also be taking a closer look at the potential benefits to be gained under the CEPA agreement and determining how it could be turned to advantage.

"As far as CEPA is concerned, the main positive impact is on the manufacturing side of our industry," says Mr Yan. "It will help to create new opportunities when we shift more of our focus to the Asia market after we have consolidated our business in the US." He adds that the opening of the China market has boosted many retail companies and that, as the global economy continues to pick up, the outlook for the garment industry is generally optimistic.

"The apparel business was the first to benefit when consumers started to spend again after the economic crisis and, with the various uncertainties in the world, a lot of people are starting to have the mentality that they only live once and they should live for the moment," says Mr Yan. "Sports apparel, in particular, has great potential for future growth, as sport is becoming a more important part of many people's lives. The increasing popularity of water sports is creating many exciting opportunities for Rip Curl, and we are poised to benefit from the market trends."

Lifestyle change

  • Optimistic view of prospects for the sports apparel business as people develop more active lifestyles
  • New Hong Kong office set up to handle design, development and global sourcing work
  • Openings for designers, merchandisers, finance, IT and administrative staff
  • Plans to expand retail and distribution network in the US and to open a retail outlet in Hong Kong
  • Investigating opportunities that can be developed under the terms of the CEPA agreement

Taken from Career Times 26 August 2005
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