Blog: Leonie BarrieInternational opportunities gather speed

Leonie Barrie | 29 November 2011

US specialty clothing retailer Gap Inc last week opened its first flagship store in Hong Kong as part of ongoing plans to expand the international reach of its brands - and aims to triple its stores in the Greater China region by the end of its next financial year.

The move coincides with the firm's first anniversary in China, where it says sales have so far been "very positive." But it recently admitted to challenges as well, with aggressive marketing key to standing out in an increasingly crowded market.

The retailer also says it is seeing progress in efforts to improve its women's wear lines."I'm feeling better about what I'm seeing coming in the spring," CEO Glenn Murphy said, adding: "I'm feeling better about 2012 when it comes to Gap."

A wave of foreign investment could soon be on the cards in India's retail sector after the government approved plans to allow overseas companies to own a 51% stake in multi-brand chains. India has long been held up as a key market for multinational retailers, but expansion into the country has been hampered by restrictions on foreign ownership.

Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer's return to Paris after ten years was somewhat overshadowed by concerns closer to home: namely a continuing row with suppliers over plans to make them contribute to its store revamps, and rumours that Kate Bostock, executive director of general merchandise, is in advanced talks with rivals to leave the company.

Trading conditions in the UK remain "extremely challenging" according to new figures produced last week, with high streets in October seeing the sharpest drop in footfall for nearly a year. Rising supply costs and unseasonable warm weather are also weighing on clothing sales - with Arcadia Group, owner of the Topshop, BHS, and Dorothy Perkins brands, planning to close some 250 stores over the next few years after booking a 38% slump in full-year profit.

A new online tool has been launched to help brands, factories and labour groups move towards the provision of a living wage for garment workers in global supply chains. The FWF Wage Ladder enables firms to compare the wages paid at any factory against a range of wage benchmarks.

And the minimum wage for Cambodia's garment workers is to rise by $5 a month from January 2012 in a bid to help workers meet basic needs like health care as well as reduce the likelihood of strikes.

But the Bangladesh government is withholding permission for a US-sponsored survey to check if child and forced labour is employed in the country's apparel sector - even though the local garment industry has no objection.


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