How to Export Clothes & Textiles into China: A Complete Guide

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The middle class is growing fast in China. Nowadays people are focusing more and more on how they can penetrate the Chinese market, rather than finding cheap manufacturing.

It’s important that you are up-to-date as the market changes quickly, not only due to the fact that the Chinese find most of their products online, but also due to a stronger appreciation of foreign brands.

A product that gets increasingly popular is clothing. If you only sell locally, in the European or the American market, you’ll miss a lot of opportunities to earn decent profits in the Chinese market.

In this guide I explain all the essentials you need to know if you plan to sell clothes in China.

Why would China import clothing and textiles from overseas?

Some of you might wonder if there’s really a market, exporting clothes to China. My answer is: Yes.

Previously, the Chinese went to local stores, or even fake markets buying clothes, as these were the choices they had. Slowly, bigger brands like H&M, Zara and Uniqlo set up physical stores in China (I witnessed it while there).

Nowadays, you rarely find any Chinese going to the local stores or ‘fake markets’, buying clothes, as many foreign brands, like H&M and Uniqlo, cost equally much.  

Even if wealthy Chinese appreciate more high-end brands like Gucci, LV and Hugo Boss, many people can’t afford these clothes and look for cheaper brands.

Some examples are: Daniel Wellington watches (I see a couple of them everyday here in Asia), Fjällräven backpacks (popular among girls, see them everywhere in Asia), Fred Perry piquets and Nike shoes.   

Importance of branding

Branding is very important in China, and many countries have a brand in themselves.

Saying that a skirt is from Japan, or a skin lotion from Korea, will in most cases make the sale significantly easier.

In the coming years, you’ll see more and more Chinese buying small or medium sized brands, like Cheap Monday or Nudie Jeans, that we have in Sweden.

Export clothes to China

Do I need to comply with any regulations when exporting clothes to China?

The CCC mark is not required for clothes exported into the Chinese market, however, bear in mind that I’m talking about fashion & apparels now.

(If you’re planning to export, for example, clothes to be worn by firefighters, in the medical industry or similar, other regulations might apply).

Even if clothing is exempt from having the CCC mark, you still need to follow the Chinese national GB standard that applies to textiles and clothing.

The GB standards (called Guobiao, 国标) literally mean ‘national standards’ and assures that your products meet requirements related to:

  • Safety
  • Quality
  • Labelling
  • Usage

Fortunately, the GB standards don’t differ much from those in the west, as they are often derived from ISO – standards.

Also, 85% of all GB standards are voluntary (!) while only 15% are mandatory. You can recognize whether a standard is mandatory by looking at the code:

  • GB: Mandatory
  • GB/T: Voluntary standard
  • GB/Z: Guiding technical document

So: if your products are already compliant and sold in Europe or the US, you’ll most likely not have any issues to obtain the paperwork needed.

Before you start exporting to China, it’s important to make sure that your products meet the GB standards required.

What GB-standards are used for textiles?

Some examples of GB standards used for textiles and apparels are:

  • GB 5296.1: Is a safety standard that is used for a wide range of products
  • GB 20400-2006: For leather and fur – for limits of harmful hatter
  • GB 18401-2010: Technical code for textile Products
  • GB 5296.4-2012: Explains how a product should be used
  • GB/T 2666: Women’s and men’s trousers
  • GB/T 2660: Shirts

Be sure to contact an agent who can assist you to make sure which GB standards your specific products need to follow.

FZ-standards for clothes and textiles

Even if clothing, apparels and textiles are less regulated, compared to food and electronic products for example, there are voluntarily quality standards that exporters wish to follow.

In a branding sensitive world, especially in China, products can see a huge boost in sales, if these are highlighted as organic or ecological.

Some of FZ-standards used for textiles and clothing are:

  • FZ/T 01053: For fiber content
  • FZ/T 81004: Skirts
  • FZ/T 81006: Jeans
  • FZ/T 81008: Jackets

Register your trademark (brand) in China

You should definitely consider registering your trademark in China. I won’t discuss this in detail as I’ve written a separate article on the subject.

China is a “first-to-file” country which means that if you don’t register your trademark, someone else can, and probably will, do it.

That means, the first person who files for the trademark will get all the rights related to that trademark.

What a nightmare, right?

It costs around USD 500 to register a trademark, a cost that is negligible compared to a scenario where you no longer have the rights of your brand in China.

Your company will probably be based outside China, hence, hiring a Chinese lawyer or agent will be a must when registering the trademark.

Selling clothes on Tmall Global

China is becoming more and more digitized and is well ahead of other countries.

In fact, when I lived in China, I rarely used cash or cards, my mobile phone was the substitute (paying through my Wechat wallet or Alipay). If you plan to sell clothes to China, online platforms are the places to be nowadays.  

So: which online platforms are the most popular ones in China?

Even if there are comparably smaller companies that will grow for sure the coming years, the two biggest online platforms are:

  • Tmall Global (Tianmao)
  • JD (Jingdong)

Tmall (previously called Taobao Mall) makes up over 50% of the market shares in China, and frequently talked about among foreign online retailers.   

One of the most sought after products on the website is in fact clothes & apparels, if you plan to export to China, you should definitely have a look at this site.

JD on the other hand is more focused on kitchen appliances and other electronic products (hence, Tmall is probably the best choice for you).

A great thing worth mentioning about both JD and Tmall is that you don’t need to have a local company in China to start selling your products.

Other websites that are on the rise, and you shouldn’t neglect, are: YangMaTou, Yihaodian and Suning.

What to consider when selling clothes on Tmall Global

If you plan to sell on Tmall Global, you need to understand how to set up a store and the costs involved.

Be prepared to deposit USD 25.000 and pay a yearly fee of around USD 10.000. On top of that, you need to add a 0.5-5% commission fee (based on sales value).

For more information about your particular product, I advise you to look for the latest up-to-date information on Tmall’s website).

Requirements when selling clothes on Tmall Global

If you’ve decided to sell clothes on Tmall Global, you need to fulfill different requirements depending on which store type you choose.

Below I’ve listed the types of stores you can choose and the requirements:

Flag Ship store:

a. You’re the owner of the brand or have been granted permission from the brand owner to sell his or her clothes on Tmall Global

b. Your store sells and represent a single brand

c. Your store sells and represent several brands (need separate approval from Tmall)

d. Your store sells and represent a multi-brand marketplace (need separate approval from Tmall)

Authorized store:

a. You’re the owner of the brand or have been granted permission from the brand owner to sell his or her clothes on Tmall Global

b. You’ve permission to sell clothes from one brand. Or, you sell clothes from multiple brands, under the same entity (requires separate approval from Tmall)

Specialty store:

a. You sell products of several brands that are of the same product category (clothing / textiles).

b. You sell several brands that are not owned by you

c. You sell products from a brand owned by you and products from a brand not owned by you

d. You sell products from several brands that you own

Selling clothes on JD

JD (an abbreviation for Jingdong, which means Kyoto in Chinese) is the second biggest online retail platform in China.

Even if JD is more focused on electronics and other appliances, many people make decent money on selling clothes on the website as well.

To start selling your products on JD, you need to meet the following requirements:

a. Have a registered company outside China

b.  A trade license and retail outside China

c. Same as with Tmall, you need to be the owner of the brand or be authorized to sell its products

d.  Product details to be written in Mandarin

e. You need to have a Chinese customer service available

f. Your products need to be shipped within a time period of 72 hours, after your customer put the order

g. You need to have a local center where products can be returned in China

Fashion trade fairs in China

Even if the world gets more digitized, many people overlook the importance of networking.

Actually, you can learn a lot from trade fairs in China and it teems of them.

There’s plenty of valuable information you can get prior to a market entry and you can meet potential future distributors or franchisors. Listening to other people’s experiences and advices can be crucial for a future success.

My personal view is that many persons focus too much on online marketing, and forget about the benefits you get through visiting fairs and networking. I have met many people that have given me great advices. Saving me time and money.

If you visit trade fairs, you can also get information regarding marketing and business strategies for specific countries.

That’s crucial and something every exporter should be aware of, before entering a new market.

There are plenty of trade fairs in China, the following should be of interest:

The Hong Kong Fashion Week

The Hong Kong Fashion Week is the second largest fashion fair in the world. It’s held annually in January each year, drawing exhibitors and buyers from all over the world.

Some products on display are:

  • Ladies’ and Men’s wear
  • Babies and Children’s wear
  • Sportswear
  • Lingerie
  • Swimwear
  • Handbags
  • Shoes
  • Fabrics
  • Inspection, testing and certification services
  • Magazines

China International Clothing and Accessories Fair (CHIC)

CHIC was established in 1993 and is one of the biggest clothing fairs in Asia.

More than 100.000 people from all over the world visit the fair, trying to promote their brands or get the latest information about the Chinese fashion industry.

Some products on display are:
  • Men’s wear
  • Women’s wear
  • Kid’s wear
  • Casual wear
  • Accessories

Shenzhen International Trade Fair for Apparel Fabrics and Accessories

This fair is held in Shenzhen, one of the biggest business hubs in China, located closely to Hong Kong.

Products on display are:
  • Men’s wear
  • Women’s wear
  • Maternity and kids clothing
  • Lingerie
  • Casual wear
  • Fashion accessories
  • Textile equipment
  • Apparel fabrics

You can also have a look at 10times.com to find fashion & clothing fairs in China.

How should I ship my products?

You have two options when choosing how to ship your products: Air freight or sea freight.

There are benefits and drawbacks to both, let’s review each one of them and see what option is best when exporting clothes.

Air freight

Air freight is not the preferred option when shipping clothes. There’s a simple reason for this: the products are heavy, takes rather much space and are generally not fragile.

Only use air freight in case you need to send smaller volumes, for example, test samples, prototypes or samples to be used at fairs.

In addition, air freight should be the preferred option during time critical situations. A scenario could be if your distributor has empty stock, or need to replace products that are broken or have other issues.

Sea freight

Sea freight is the best option when shipping clothes, due to the above mentioned reasons.

Also, the shipping time is not very long and between 5-6 weeks from Europe to China, if you plan your deliveries thoroughly, you’ll be sure that your distributor and customers will get their products in time.

Bear in mind that you have two options when shipping with sea freight: using FCL (Full container load) or LCL (Less than a container load).

FCL is the cheapest and preferred option, if you manage to fill up a 20” container. The cost of shipping a container from Europe to China is around USD 1200.

LCL is your option if you can’t manage to fill up a 20” container. Hence, you’ll need to share the container with other exporters.  

Conclusion

China has grown for a long time and been famously known for producing and exporting low cost manufactured products to the West.  However, there’s been a transition and nowadays media and larger corporations focus on the Chinese consumer market.

This doesn’t mean that small or medium sized companies can’t enter the Chinese market, in fact, there are great opportunities to sell clothes on online retail platforms like Tmall and JD.

China has its own certification mark, called CCC (China Compulsory Certificate), even if it’s not applied to apparel & clothing, you need to follow other local regulations, such as GB-standards.

Some of them are mandatory and some voluntarily, but having a proof that you follow voluntary standards can increase the value of your brand. Nothing negative…

Before you decide to sell to the Chinese market, I recommend that you study the market and the industry well in advance, preferably, visit one or more fashion fairs. It’s important to get get on-the-ground experience and local contacts.  

If you want to know more about the CCC mark, CIQ, or shipping (just to mention a few), I recommend that you read some of the other articles I’ve written on our website.

How can you help me take the next step?

Do you need help with CIQ, CCC or setting up your first Tmall store? We work with leading consultants and service providers – that can help you through every part of the process:

a. CIQ, CCC, labeling and laboratory testing

b. Shipping and customs

c. Selling on Tmall, JD Worldwide & other platforms

d. Finding retailers and distributors for your products

What are you waiting for? Click here to request a free quotation.

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    2 Responses to “How to Export Clothes & Textiles into China: A Complete Guide”

    1. akshit August 21, 2015 at 12:29 pm #

      HELLO, i am akshit agarwal from INDIA i want to sell the cloth to the other countries i deal with non redemate cloth ar the cloth with lumbs deals with school uniforms all types of cotton woolens and muc more

    2. suzy October 10, 2018 at 4:17 am #

      Great article, also read another article about clothes in China is very interesting http://ecommercechinaagency.com/how-to-sell-clothes-in-china/ I recommend you this article too

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