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Fashion brands from Eastern Europe are still under-represented on the European fashion market. This could soon change, as 34 fashion labels from Moldova and Belarus are now eager to make an entrance. They are participating in the Ready to Trade project, organised by the CBI (Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries, www.cbi.eu) in collaboration with the ITC (International Trade Centre, www.intracen.org), on behalf of the European Union and are receiving assistance from sector experts.
The project was launched two years ago, when the Moldovan and Belarusian fashion brands with the most potential on the European market were selected. "Primarily companies which have a long tradition as producers for the regional Eastern European market. They decided to change their strategy when competition from countries like China, Bangladesh and Turkey increased", explains Afke van der Woude, the project’s Programme Manager. "They have developed their own brands, with their own designs and collections, and sometimes their own stores too."
Helping fashion brands to expand in the EU
The 34 brands are diverse, from ladies fashion and bridal fashion to children’s clothing and industrial clothing. They are successful in their own countries and have done well in surrounding countries too. The time has therefore come to conquer the rest of Europe and, according to Van der Woude, they have a great deal of potential. They want to expand, but how do you go about realising that? After all, doing business in Western Europe is different to doing business in Russia. Plus consumers naturally have different requirements and tastes too. For example, the fit in the Netherlands and Germany is different to that in the eastern bloc. The collections often also feature different colours.
The Ready to Trade project’s role is to help these brands to expand. "We provide training courses for every CBI project. We train the entrepreneurs in the skills they need for export", Van der Woude explains about the project. "They often just need a little help to translate what they’re doing in their own countries to suit the international market. This could be something very simple, like setting up an English-language website, or CSR and Sales and Marketing training. The companies have also been tasked with writing a marketing plan and they are receiving personal coaching from sector experts."
Help from three fashion experts
The brands recently received help from three Dutch fashion experts with developing their collections, as well as the ins and outs of corporate social responsibility. For example, Carinke Dijkstra, a specialist in textile sourcing and procurement, is coaching the Belarusian brands. Serge Leon, an expert in certification and corporate social responsibility, and Giovanni Beatrice, a specialist in sales, marketing, production and business management, are supporting the Moldovan brands.
"We attended various trade fairs with the brands six months ago. We prepared them for participating in trade fairs themselves during these visits", Giovanni Beatrice explains. "The Eastern European culture is very different to ours and some entrepreneurs were a little too timid during their visit. The language barrier contributed to that. We stressed the importance of needing to be up front about approaching people. A number of good leads came out of the trade fair visit and they learned what’s required to professionally present themselves at a trade fair."
Trade fair participation
The plan was for the brands to have their own stand at a trade fair this summer, but the corona crisis unfortunately threw a spanner in the works. We now have our sights set on January. But that doesn’t mean the project is currently at a standstill. Coaching and training are continuing online. "We are also busy developing an online B2B matchmaking initiative, so the companies can enter the European market regardless", says Van der Woude.
Giovanni Beatrice adds: "The corona crisis has naturally also affected these companies. They were confronted with cancellations and orders being put on hold. So together we assessed what they could do with those stocks of fabrics. For example, we advised them to start selling online, direct to consumers. And to only start the production process once consumers have ordered and paid. This allows the brands to offer new pieces every day and the risk is relatively low."
Benefits associated with Moldovan and Belarusian fashion brands
And what’s the benefit to retailers in the European Union? Why would they want to do business with brands from Moldova and Belarus? "The clothing industry in these countries has a long tradition and there’s a great deal of craftsmanship. This is instantly evident from the quality of the products. The fabrics are imported from Italy. It’s clear that Italy has served as a great source of inspiration for the various brands. The collections from Moldova and Belarus are in the medium to high segment", says Van der Woude.
She continues: "Another plus point: they are far closer than other production countries. This could therefore also be of interest in terms of private label production. It offers an opportunity for quicker production, smaller runs, and a more on-demand way of working." We have definitely not heard the last of these companies.
Read more about the 34 fashion brands here.
The Ready to Trade project is funded by EU4Business, an initiative for SMEs in the EU’s Eastern Partnership countries. For more information, please visit www.eu4business.eu.
You can contact us about the project via this page.