• Pornprapun Sriyotha

The Potential For Thailand To Be ASEAN Fashion Hub



Since the agreement to form an integrated ASEAN Economic Community into single market, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and lastly Indonesia have been attempting to position themselves as the ASEAN Fashion Hub capital. Today, none of them have yet succeeded in pulling ahead. It does, however, look as if there are other very strong competitors that need to be considered as well, who are not within the ASEAN community. Yes, we are talking about China and South Korea.

Singapore is positioned as the shopping destination for high-end fashion brands. However, this position has become weak as these brands are expanding their market coverage throughout Asia. Indonesia and Malaysia are both striving to be the Muslim fashion hub, targeting about 40% of the ASEAN Community, with majorities only in Indonesia, Brunai and Malaysia. The Philippines, though they have been developing a local fashion industry, are struggling to expand into the global market due to their isolated geographical location, which makes its difficult for trade and logistics.

Then Thailand, the country with borders connecting them to the last frontier markets in South East Asia; Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam. It’s one of the World’s tourist hotspots and the second largest economy in ASEAN. Though the country has been losing cost competitiveness for it’s textile industry, as a result of rising labor costs, this country has strengthened it’s local fashion industry by developing full cycle value chains for its domestic market and is now emerging as a sourcing destination for fashion products.

THAILAND FASHION INDUSTRY

In Thailand, the fashion industry accounts for approximately 2 percent of total GDP. There are more than 4,000 companies and more than one million people employed within the industry. With the aim of transforming Thailand into Southeast Asia’s fashion capital, the Textile Institute is investing $9.7 million to develop the local textile and garment industry from 2012 to 2016.

For Thailand, fashion is not only about runway or high-end flagship stores; in almost every corner of a city you can find small shops selling fashion clothes and accessories along the roadside. Small retail markets are located near high-rise office buildings where office girls go out for food and also shop for fashion items during lunch time.

It’s also not expensive to set up a small fashion trading business in Thailand. Many sellers are individual entrepreneurs with no formal company registration, they can simply buy fashion products from wholesalers, look for a good location and set up their temporary shops.

The start-up costs can be as low as $1,000. Thais are very fashion conscious which make for a demanding home market. Furthermore, Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations and as much as 50% of the earnings from Thailand's fashion houses come from tourists, who have been surprised by the Thai fashion industry with its abundance and small fashion shops.

FASHION INDUSTRY VALUE CHAIN

High fashion brands are available at Siam Paragon, Emporium, and Central World. And recently, The Mall Group has announced a huge investment worth over $20 billion into the development of six high-end shopping mall projects in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Huahin and Chiang Mai. Beside high-end fashion shopping malls, mid-to-high end local fashion brands are available at Siam Center and other department stores. Street-style local designer shops can be found at Jatujak Market. Wholesale fashion shops are clustered in Pratunum area.

For local fashion industry, fashion products are locally made by SMEs who have now begun to focus on better production, design and marketing in order to stay competitive amid the flux of cheap products from China. Thailand is one of the strongest competitors in the textile sector in ASEAN and 70 to 80 percent of the materials are locally sourced, with an exception of cotton which is 100% imported.

AEC OPPORTUNITY OR THREAT?

Under the AEC, import duties on textiles and garments were eliminated in 2008. This opens up the way for Thailand to move forward as the ASEAN Fashion hub, due to it’s strategic location and open culture for fashion. The tariff elimination has created a great potential for Thailand to become a regional supplier of fashion products. This is because of a strong local demand for fashion products as well as a supply chain for fashion related industries such as textiles, garments, gems and jewelry.

The media industry also plays an important role in supporting Thailand’s fashion industry. Thailand TV’s drama, movies and music are well received by their neighboring countries. Similar to the K-POP industry that’s promoting Korean culture which includes food, fashion and tourism, Thailand has been following the same path but it’s purely driven by the private sector, unlike the K-POP industry that’s fully supported by the government.

THE SUCCESS OF THE PLATINUM FASHION MALL

Take a look at the largest wholesale & retail fashion mall in Thailand , The Platinum Fashion Mall, this mall consists of 7 floors of whole sale space with over 40,000 visitors per day on weekdays and up to 60,000 visitors during weekends. The Platinum Fashion Mall does not only offers fashion clothes and accessories but also their have all kind of fashion product for everyone. About 60 percent of the whole customer are local shopper and 40 percent are foreign shopper especially those who come form Singapore, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Africa and euro zone, etc. The Platinum is a located in Pratunum, Bangkok which is a strategic location of Thailand’s wholesale fashion businesses.

The Platinum Fashion Mall was founded in 2005, they developed “The Platinum Fashion Mall” to be the national wholesale & retail shopping concept, and become one a stop wholesale shopping and modern fashion mall.

This means all facilities would have air conditioning, safety structures, parking spaces and toilets, similar to a modern retail complex. The Platinum supports many space for wholesale shoppers, other features such as warehouse spaces, cargo services, bank services and freight elevators. These were truly vast blue ocean spaces that nobody claimed for such positioning until now. Today, its occupancy rate is 100%. It is the first wholesale mall in ASEAN with a cluster of over 2,500 wholesale fashion clothes and accessories shops.

AEC STRATEGY

We had a pleasant discussion with the marketing team from The Platinum Fashion Mall, led by Mr.Sirichai Praphanturakit, the Executive Vice President - Property Management of Building Operations regarding theirstrategy response to AEC integration in 2015. “It's an opportunity for not only the Platinum Fashion Mall to be the whole sale fashion hub in ASEAN but also shop owners to expand their customer base especially to Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. Thai fashion is very similar to those Indo-china markets where consumers are also influenced by Thai TV shows and TV drama” said Mr. Sirichai when asked whether AEC is an opportunity or threat.

The strategy for AEC is to help shop owners be competitive at a regional level. First, is to focus on cost and quality. The Platinum works closely with the Thai Textile Manufacturing Association to create a program to help guide shop owners about product development process to reduce operational costs and shift their focus on fashion design for competitiveness and sustainability.

Second, is to accommodate wholesale shoppers with credit card payment options. They have worked with VISA and with the leading banks in Thailand, to organize training sessions to explain benefits for accepting credit card payments to shop owners. Recently they also cooperated with Kasikorn Bank to promote China Union Pay Card, the largest credit card network in China. Today about 20% of shops accept credit card.

Third, is to develop an online shopping channel. The Platinum provides technical support to all shops to create their own web pages under www.platinumfashionmall.com and support them to create their own online store which register under www.thaitrade.com the e-Commerce platform under the Department of International Trade Promotion, to expand market for Thai product and services, specifically to target foreign buyers.

THE CHALLENGES

“We have to work closely with a potential group of shop owners to develop new programs, once it shows the benefits, all other shops shall follow” said Mr. Sirichai. To be the ASEAN Fashion Hub, it's a vital challenge for local Small and Medium Enterprizes to develop their attractiveness. One-shop owners can't do this alone; there must be a force driven by the market leader throughout the value chains.

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