2018 has been an exciting year for SILA as they brought their brand into Asia with their stunning pop-up at KAPOK in Hong Kong.
Following their great success at Le Printemps Haussmann and riding the new wave of the mini-jewel watch, the brand has been very well received in the Asian region, inspiring a promising future.
At the origin of the brand, two great minds coming from the beauty industry: Alexandra Marque and Karine Lemire.
Alexandra and Karine share a very similar professional background as they both graduated from business schools in France before working for L’Oréal in the luxury department for a little over 5 years.
Now based in Hong Kong, Alexandra is in charge of all the production, supply and creative part of the business. She works with various outside teams from graphic designers to product designers to the retail identity agency, leading them with an iron fist in a velvet glove.
Karine, who grew up all over the world, is based in France where she handle the digital business while working on the company’s future plans to engage and reach out to more customers.
Retail in Asia met Alexandra to know more about SILA’s concept and its plans for Asia.
RiA : Why SILA?
Alexandra : SILA stands for “Sorry I’m Late Again”.
SILA does not celebrate lateness, but life and moments behind these lateness stories. We believe women are very passionate and live moments in life quite intensively. They play many roles, which, sometimes (often) results in them being late.
Product wise, the concept behind SILA emerged as we saw both a need and business opportunity on the affordable market, between US$100 – US$250. It is a busy market populated with many watch brands, many products. Having a closer look though, we could see it was a very standardized market with similar products.
We felt we could find our place in this market. We had a crush in Tokyo. We fell in love with a vintage shop, Nakano, where we were enchanted by the mini-watches from early 20th century, from the 30s.
Karine and I were coming from the beauty sector, in which storytelling and retail experience, drives innovation, and we wanted to apply to watches.
RiA : SILA is a French brand, are you planning on keeping a French brand identity to target market globally or will you frame it more as an international brand?
Alexandra : We thought about it when we first launched the brand.
Unlike many French brands, all our communication has been available in English from the beginning as we wanted to be a brand with French roots but international potential.
We built an identity able talk to every woman, not only the Parisian one. “Sorry I’m late again” is not just about French, it concerns all women (except Swiss!). . I thought it was only my story and that of French people but I discovered that it made all the women around me laugh.
In the UK, for example, we have this expression of being “fashionably late”, so it is not just the “quart d’heure de politesse” from the French. In Asia, people really enjoy our story, the brand name, the concept and personality behind that, which is a good sign. We want people to laugh and have fun with it!
RiA : As SILA prompted in Japan, will you bring your modernized version of the mini-watch to Japan?
Alexandra : The idea was definitely born in Tokyo, but the designs are not Japanese. The trend for mini-watches, jewel watches, was all over the world. In the early 20th century, all women were wearing mini-watches. We wanted our design to be vintage-inspired with a modern twist.
This is where the interchangeability system comes in. We wanted to be able to go from a very jewel, professional, and elegant look with the jewelry chain to something super casual or something more personal, with a color matching your personality or style.
We will definitely go to Japan as it is a very interesting market. They are very sophisticated and refined customers. They are trend setters and they have a true taste for French brands and French culture which is without a doubt an ideal match for SILA.
Japan is also a great market to raise awareness and desirability amongst other Asian customers.
RiA : What are your plans for Asian expansion?
Alexandra : HK is our first Asian launch, first step to our Asian expansion. It is a very concentrated market which is why we wanted to launch here first. We have had a very positive response so far as we only launched 2 months ago in 3 of KAPOK stores but were already in the top 5 brands at K11 of Kapok stores last month across all categories, not only watches. It is very promising as K11 is in TST and targets mostly local customers and very few expats.
Debuting in Hong-Kong this September, we opened our first pop-up store in the region at PMQ in partnership with Kapok. The pop-up, which is now closed, brought SILA’s values to life through an experiential installation with hundreds of colorful ribbons. Our visitors really loved the ribbon wall which was very Instagrammable.
After this great launch, we would like to continue developing HK, we are already discussing with one of HK leading retailers. We want to first focus on HK to make SILA a success in the area and then probably in 2019 we will start expanding in Asia. We are mostly looking at Japan and China. Korea is also a nice market as they are also trendsetters so we will be looking at them quite soon too.
RiA : Will you enter those markets with a pop-up store or a physical stand-alone locations?
Alexandra : We entered both France and HK through pop-up stores.
Pop-up stores are great because you can create a much bigger buzz and greater experience for customers with a very impactful and playful retail. So far, people, typically in Paris, loved this newness we brought into the market both in terms of products but also in terms of retail experience.
The brand already has a strong retail identity, so it is a great brand to play with in a pop up and the retail excitement is definitely one of the reason which enabled us to do so well in Le Printemps Haussmann where we achieved two times our initial target sales.
I think pop-ups are a great way to launch a brand and I want to keep on doing that.
RiA : What differentiates your Asian target customers from their European counterparts?
Alexandra : Asian and European don’t have the same metal color preferences. Our watch is available in 3 colors: silver, yellow gold, and rose gold.
Rose gold is the most popular in Asia and much stronger than silver and yellow gold. It is because rose gold looks very nice on the Asian skin tone.
It accounted for over 40% of our total sales to Asian customers. This figure includes both the first Kapok sale and the sales carried out to Asian customers in Paris. Whereas, for Europeans, rose gold represented 30% of sales while silver and yellow gold were 35% each.
Another point of differentiation would be what appeals to customers in our mini-size statement. Both Asians and Europeans are appealed to the mini size as it looks like a jewel.
They both say it. However, Asians are even more appealed to the mini size as they think it is more proportionate to the size of their wrists. “Finally a watch for our wrists” is a recurring comment we get from our Asian customers.
RiA : SILA is a brand thought for women, do you have any plans on expanding your product line to reach a wider audience?
Alexandra : We want to keep developing products for women as men already have a lot of choices when it comes to watches. We will keep on targeting women, but we have many other launches in our pipeline. We could offer more straps options on new materials or develop the jewellery part of our business to name a few examples.
We recently launched our first piece of jewellery, which is a bangle that matches the watch. It worked quite well. In Le Printemps’ pop-up, it accounted for more than 20% of the sales, a promising number. We could expand to all accessories as we have a brand identity, which can work very well on other accessories if you think about color, personalization or customization.
RiA : Many watch brands offer interchangeable straps so what makes SILA stand out?
Alexandra : Color is a statement for us, it is in our DNA and makes SILA stands out in terms of retail. In Paris, every woman would stop at the pop-up because it was “playful, feminine, refreshing and full of colors”.
Many brands offer interchangeable straps focusing on classic colors such as black, brown and beige with maybe 3 special color launch. SILA offers women the widest range of colors as we have 25 different stripes of colors by metal color, that is 75 customization options. This allows us to target different ages, nationality and styles as every woman can find her perfect match depending on the season, her mood, personality and style.
We also stand out with our vintage inspired design made by our talented designer, Marie Lemire, elected Vogue Talent in Italy in 2015.
Last but not least, SILA stands out due to the interchangeability system which we invented. Back in the 20th century, watches with links were not interchangeable. Also now, among all the mini watches with link straps we know of in the market, none are interchangeable but SILA’s.
RiA : You are present both online and offline, which platform is the strongest for you in the Asian market? Which one do you focus on?
Alexandra : HK retail is very strong and is therefore our first priority. Nevertheless, our ecommerce sales have accounted for 18% of our total sales since our launch 8 months ago.
As it is a growing channel our customers use to connect with us, we will definitely be investing more importantly online and I believe the first step in doing so is to ensure you have a performing website which converts well.
You need to have an online shop when you launch, even if you do not really invest online. I looked at the sales during the pop up and we can see the online shop brought 10% of additional sales without investing anything which means customers are trying offline and buying online. This is the reality we live in today.
RiA : Then how do you reach and engage your customers?
Alexandra : Regarding social media investments, we did some operations. One was in France with a great startup which puts brands and influencers in contact.
In HK, we have done a KOL launch with the opening of the store.
Looking forward, we will be reaching out to more influencers. SILA being a very visual brand, Instagram is the ideal platform to develop our brand identity and is therefore our main focus. Nevertheless, we will also develop on Facebook and the other social media platforms.
RiA : How do you see SILA in 5 years?
Alexandra : Let’s dream a bit!
Over the past two years, there has been a big shift in watch trends for women with over-sized watches coming to an end. We believe SILA is the first brand on the affordable market to ride the new wave of the mini-jewel watch. We hope to see SILA on many stylish women over the world in 5 years.
In terms of geography, I think we will be very strong in some of the world’s leading market, both in Europe and Asia, France and HK for sure. Asia will probably represent the largest part of our sales, which is actually the case for most watch brands. China could be a game changer in Asia. We also hope to do well in Japan and Korea.
In 5 years, I believe we will have our own distribution as we have the right retail identity to continue to bring excitement to offline customers.
Stay tuned to know more about SILA’s developments!