Gao Dekang was born in 1952 in the village of Shanjing in Jiangsu province. At the age of 24 he established a business, with assets consisting of eight sewing machines and a bike. He hired 11 peasants to process garments for a factory in Shanghai. Riding frantically between his suppliers, the factory and his customers, Gao claims to have covered 200km a day.
In 1980 he started a factory of his own and won a contract to produce (insulated) ‘down’ jackets. By 1990 business was going so well he spent Rmb1.5 million on a second factory and made the key decision to register his own brand, Bosideng.
The winter of 1994 proved a turning point for Gao. The tailor produced 230,000 down garments, but sold less than half of his inventory.
Meanwhile the bank was asking for the repayment of a Rmb8 million loan. “At that time, I really wanted to jump off a building,” he recalls. “But considering the livelihood of hundreds of people, I felt I must be responsible for them and the enterprise.”
Determined to rediscover his commercial success, Gao instigated a huge study of the northeastern market, and discovered that his styles and fits were not what most local people wanted. So he set up rep offices and hooked up with local malls, and reworked his designs. In 1995 he sold 680,000 pieces and saw net profit exceed Rmb20 million.
Need to know
Bosideng is the largest down apparel company in China, and by 2006 it accounted for a third of the all downwear manufactured globally.
The brand name Bosideng was chosen as it sounded foreign, and for the Chinese similar to the American city of Boston.
Gao has since created six major brands including Kangbo. In 2007 Bosideng was listed in Hong Kong, and in the most recent fiscal year made a profit of Rmb1.07 billion on sales of Rmb5.73 billion.
Bosideng already has 5,620 shops in 65 Chinese cities. But it has also made a big push into the UK in recent years, selling its merchandise through Bradford-based retailer Greenwoods. (Greenwoods was founded in 1860 and at its peak had 200 shops in Britain).
When Greenwoods went into administration last year, Bosideng bought 87 of its stores. Gao now plans to retain the Greenwoods name and open a further 100 stores, mainly in the south of England, over the next five years.
In 2009 Gao ranked 131 on the Hurun rich list with Rmb6.5 billion.
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