Last September Gieves & Hawkes hosted “The Invention of the British Gentleman” exhibition in Hong Kong. Thousands of shoppers got a glimpse of the Savile Row firm’s history, including 10 generations of royal wardrobes from King George III to Prince William. Two months later, it was announced that the British brand’s Hong Kong-based owner Trinity Limited would be taken over by Ruyi Group, a Shandong textile firm controlled by Qiu Yafu.
Qiu was born in 1958 in Shandong’s Jining near the hometown of Confucius. In 1975 he became a technician at Ruyi, then a state-owned wool mill. He joined the Communist Party in the same year. He worked hard and used his spare time to study, getting a diploma from a textile polytechnic in 1985. He added a degree in economic management from the Central Party School in 1993 and Chinese media reports that he has also earned an MBA from the elite Tsinghua University.
In 1992, Qiu was appointed as Ruyi’s deputy general manager as the lossmaking factory sold major equity stakes to its staff. Soon after he took over as boss. The textile sector is commonly described as a sunset industry in China, although Ruyi has put heavy emphasis on R&D, supplying high-end fabric to luxury brands such as Hugo Boss and Armani. The strategy has won strong support from the Chinese government. After taking over a number of domestic rivals, Ruyi is now one of the biggest textile and garment firms, operating from 13 giant industrial parks. In 2016, it reported close to Rmb30 billion ($4.72 billion) in revenue.
Ruyi is keen to become China’s answer to LVMH. Work started in 2010 when he took over Japan’s Renown and in 2016 he bought SMCP for about $1 billion and listed the French fashion brand in Paris (see WiC385). In 2017, Ruyi added Trinity and grabbed control of menswear labels such as Gieves & Hawkes, Cerruti 1881 and Kent & Curwen. Ruyi also snapped up Swiss luxury shoes and leather company Bally last month
Ruyi was back in the news last week when media reported that Qiu was in talks to buy Arcadia, the UK clothes retailer owned by Sir Philip Green and best known for its Top Shop fashion brand. Green has denied he is selling his 2,800 store empire, however.
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According to Yangtze Daily, even when he became chairman Qiu spent time personally unclogging the sewers at Ruyi’s offices. He also insisted on staying in his old, 70 square-metre home, despite the offer of better accommodation from the company. All the same, in 2013 he made headlines for buying one of Sydney’s most expensive houses, a harbourside mansion, for $33 million.
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