China Consumer

Comfort zone

Local lingerie firm sees surge in online sales

Liu-Xiaolu-w

Neiwai’s founder Liu Xiaolu

This month, Chinese singing legend Faye Wong surprised fans when she made a rare appearance on Taobao Live, the livestreaming platform owned by Alibaba. The singer, who has drastically cut down on her public performances in recent years, sang three songs that were not her own (she explained these are her go-to tracks during karaoke sessions) before concluding the livestreaming broadcast dueting with Jack Ma If Cloud Knows by Taiwanese singer Hsu Ru-yun.

The choice of the song was clearly a play on the word yun, which means cloud in Chinese and is also the name of Alibaba’s former chairman of (Ma Yun). The duo even tweaked the lyrics to promote the company Ma founded, changing one line from “Can’t escape this prison of entanglement” to a jokey “Can’t escape this prison of Taobao”.

Wong’s appearance quickly became the highest trending topic on weibo, with many netizens expressing envy at what money can buy. “Being rich is great, you can even hire Faye Wong as your karaoke partner,” one wrote.

The karaoke session was not the 51 year-old singer’s only commercial appearance this month. In early September, Neiwai, an underwear start-up that prioritises comfort and a pared-down style, announced that it had tapped Wong as its global spokesperson. The new ad shows her wearing a semi-sheer turtleneck, revealing just the shape of her black undergarment. The appointment of Wong suggests that the underwear maker has plans to grow its business outside of China, targeting overseas Chinese familiar with the diva.

Neiwai joins the ranks of Chinese lingerie makers that have shunned endorsers merely known for their overt sex appeal. Last April, Victoria’s Secret surprised the industry by appointing young actress Zhou Dongyu as its brand ambassador for China after fighting off accusations that the brand was promoting an idea of sexy too rooted in the pin-up era (see WiC493). Cosmo Lady, another lingerie company, also ditched the leggy Taiwanese actress-model Lin Chi-ling for actress Guan Xiaotong, who is known more for her girl-next-door appeal.

Founded in 2012, Neiwai is an online brand that is best known for its wireless bras. The company is now consistently one of the top 10 vendors on Alibaba’s Tmall, the e-commerce platform. Last October, the lingerie brand raised Rmb150 million ($22.15 million) in a Series C round of fundraising from Qiming Venture Capital.

Part of the reason for its success is that it has tapped the growing trend for women seeking functional underwear. Liu Xiaolu, who worked at Coca-Cola before founding the lingerie start-up, says she noticed that a lot of lingerie firms paid too little attention to Chinese women’s needs. “In order to shape and accentuate, a lot of underwear is often uncomfortable. That’s especially the case for women with smaller breasts, it is very difficult for them to find products that fit in an era that emphasises curves,” Liu told iYiou, an online news site.

But women now choose comfort when it comes to their lingerie. A research report published by consultants Analysys and iiMedia suggested that quality and comfort are the two most important criteria for women when choosing undergarments. That is also a factor contributing to the rising sales of sports bras and wireless bras.

“The demand for comfortable and versatile underwear started a few years ago, and underwear brands that insist on sexual fantasy have obviously missed the opportunity,” observed ThePaper.cn. “In fact, as early as 2014, Everbright Securities pointed out in a research report that wireless underwear was taking off and Cosmo Lady, too, saw sales of wireless undergarments rising. But the company attributed the increase to a short-term trend and failed to respond. Now it has missed the lucrative window.”

The affordable price point of Neiwai’s products also appeals to consumers. At the moment, its wireless bra is priced at Rmb249. To attract young consumers, it has also started making a bralette (which usually features very little padding and is wire-free) for Rmb169, which has gone on to become the company’s bestseller.

Its savvy social media strategy, too, has struck a chord with women. Its most recent campaign on WeChat, ‘No Body is Nobody’, showcases women from all ages and walks of life, celebrating body positivity. “We hope that these stories from the crowd will give women more strength and courage and see the different possibilities of life,” Neiwai said of the campaign.


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