Zhang Rongming was born in 1962 in Jiangsu province. He studied metallurgy and on graduation his first business foray involved coated blades, which were sold to locomotive plants in northern China. He did this in partnership with his alma mater, the Beijing University of Science and Technology.
In 1991, a friend told him how a Japanese firm called Wacoal was making bras using an innovative metal alloy. Since no Chinese factory was doing the same, Zhang decided this was a promising market. He began working on shape metal alloys made from nickel titanium. The advantage was that the heat of the human body allowed these bra wires to adopt the woman’s shape. A perfectly-fitting brassiere was the result. He completed his first piece of lingerie at the end of 1991. Unfortunately, its design did not initially impress. “Though I was already married, I had never paid attention to what kind of underwear my wife wore,“ laments Zhang.
Life of Lingerie
Zhang wasn’t put off, and when Beijing’s Industrial Development Bureau asked him to take over the dilapidated Huamei Fashion Works, he agreed. In 1993 he created a new brand, Aimer – a play on the French verb ‘to love’. Within three years, Aimer had supplanted Wacoal as the top selling lingerie brand in Beijing. Zhang’s focus was on the mid-and-high end of the lingerie industry, realising that increasingly affluent women would be willing to spend several hundred yuan on a bra. He was right. Lingerie is now big business: China’s undergarment market is reckoned to be worth Rmb200 billion ($29.29 billion) this year, says the 21CN Business Herald.
Zhang broadened his focus to China’s underwear business, with a portfolio of brands for women, as well as a men’s line. He focused on quality – obtaining an ISO9001 certificate – and reorganised Aimer into a joint stock company in 2002. He invested in sophisticated laser scanning technology to design lingerie specifically for the Chinese figure, and had the idea to generate publicity through a Victoria’s Secret-like annual fashion show. He even designed the gold armoured bra that Gong Li wore in the 2006 movie Curse of the Golden Flower.
In his own words
Zhang is considering a push into Japan and Singapore, but wishes Aimer to remain a private company. “I am not considering an IPO, as I am seeking small but beautiful, small but excellent, small but special.”
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