Retail in Asia

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Best Performing Brands to Watch in 2021

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Last year, when we released the #10 Global brands to keep an eye on in 2020 in the middle of the Hong Kong protests, we were far from expecting what was going to strike the entire planet a month later and shake the world with the worst global pandemic, testing all fundamental and solidity of governments, economies, companies, brands, distribution, logistic, business operations and people…

When I was asked by Retail in Asia to contribute on a new ranking for 2021, I initially though it might not be a proper time to release a one because in this retail apocalypse most of the brands and retailers are consolidating stores and teams, trying to survive 2020 and struggling to stay afloat. But then I realized that every crisis sheds light on opportunities, learnings, and resilience. This ranking may prove that not everything is down trending or collapsing and become a message of hope for brands and their eco-system in 2021.

This new ranking focuses on global brands, which have show their resilience, but also  expanded in terms of retail doors, channels, impactful collaborations; product design or marketing strategy during Covid-19.

Among them are some digital native brands or new sustainable brands that quickly captured a nice piece of the market by conquering new clients, but also classic heritage brands which were able to leverage on the loyalty of their existing customers and core values.

From Sweden to Taiwan, from gourmet to sneakers, the list covers some key trends and new retail components to keep an eye on in 2021.

Casetify – It’s All About Cool Collaborations & Instagrammability

CasetifySource: Casetify

Casetify, founded by Wesley Ng in Hong Kong in 2011, has taken the world by storm with its stylish and customized phone accessories. Tapping on the rise of social media and pioneering the use of influencer marketing, often featured by the world’s famous celebrities such as Kylie Jenner and Gigi Hadid, the Hong Kong-based tech unicorn has successfully built an extensive online community with over 2 million followers on Instagram.  

Starting off chic phone cases that could be personalized with your own Instagram photos, it has now developed a full range of electronic gadgets, including airpods cases, watch bands, and more, catering to the discerning needs of tech lovers.  The idea of customized tech accessories is Casetify’s core business enabling customers to express themselves and celebrate everyone’s uniqueness. 

Casetify focuses its marketing strategy on endless excitement and playful and buzzing brand collaborations. Imagining phone cases as canvas, the brand landed partnerships from different unpredictable streams of industries launching exclusive branded products – from luxury designer Thom Brown and YSL to commercial giants such as DHL, Coca-Cola, and even top hit Netflix series – Stranger Things and the space-inspired collection with NASA.  

Despite the ongoing pandemic and slumping retail market, Casetify remains resilient and ventures out of its native digital environment to transform its pop-up into a first-ever official flagship at Landmark, a luxury mall in Central, Hong Kong. The extended space is designed to enable customers to meet and build deeper relationships with the brand. Faithful to its brand’s DNA – Social, Casetify re-defines the retail experience of gadgets with a strong inviting, social and interactive platform where customers can connect digital and physical space through selfies, snapshots, etc.

With the next Japan flagship debut planned for next year and its strong digital customer engagement and omni-channels business, Casetify is one of the brands to watch in 2021. 

Ecoalf – Because There Is No Planet B

Source: Ecoalf

Founded in 2009 by Javier Goyeneche, Ecoalf is a Spanish fashion brand focusing on circular economy. It aspires to produce quality recycled products by giving a second life to recovered waste to the waste material removed from the sea through the initiative “Upcycling the Oceans”. 

First B CorpTM certified in Spain, Ecoalf positions itself differently from other Spanish fashion brands globally such as Inditex brands for its sustainable identity vs. fast fashion giants. 

Since the launch of its “Upcycling the Oceans” in both Spain and Thailand, Ecoalf has recovered 500 tonnes of ocean waste and used it to produce goods. 

Among the pool of growing sustainable labels, Ecoalf is one of the only brand who strives to revolutionize the industry by creating a holistic supply chain system with real sustainable materials.  It does not stop at using recycled fabric, it demands suppliers to strictly adhere to its regulations, and educates the public to use natural resources responsibly.  It calls for collaborative and immediate efforts to recuse the environment – BECAUSE THERE IS NO PLANET B. 

After successfully building brand awareness in Europe with flagships in Madrid, Berlin, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Malaga, Ecoalf started its global expansion with a flagship in Tokyo opened in 2020 and will land in the US next year with further plans for Asia.

Unlike other fashion trends that would come and go – we firmly believe that sustainability is here to stay, and Ecoalf will surely be part of it. 

Gogoro – The Tesla Of 2 Wheels

Source: Gogoro

Founded in 2011 by Horace Luke, HTC’s former Chief Innovation Officer, and Matt Taylor, HTC’s former Chief Technologist, Gogoro is a Taiwan-based electric scooter manufacturer also known as the “Tesla of Scooters”. 

Like all startups, Gogoro started with an idea “Leverage the power of technology to change the way we use and distribute energy, and bring joy to everyday urban life.”

Today, we can say that Gogoro has reinvented urban transportation with its innovative, light-weighted electric scooters and fast-swapping batteries that are designed and manufactured entirely in Taiwan. 

The startup built an extensive battery-swapping infrastructure in Taiwan for a faster, easier and smarter way to use and share power. It has become a solution for industry partners such as Yamaha, Aeon and PGO that have chosen Gogoro as their core technology for their electric scooters. 

In its home market, Gogoro is the top-selling electric scooter, thanks to government incentives and also a B2B product launched for logistics enterprises firstly adopted by DHL as a lower-carbon logistics solution.This model has been also introduced to the South Korean and European markets, but without great results. 

Gogoro has a strong R&D team that has recently launched a new product for the US market, the ebike brand Eeyo, and is continuously researching ways to engage consumers across different markets to limit the carbon footprint. 

Currently present in markets such as Taiwan, Germany, France, Spain, U.S and Japan, Gogoro continues to look for opportunities to expand. Gogoro has greatly contributed to the acceleration and widening of electric scooter adoption, as well as improved distribution and utilization of energy. In a world where sustainability is the ultimate goal, it is exciting to see Gogoro’s next step in developing its sustainable urban mobility platform. 

Re/done – The Hype Upcycling Secondary Market label

Source: Re:done

Re/done is a digital-native denim & contemporary brand from Los Angeles backed by Style Capital who acquired 30% stake in 2018 and aims at developing and boost the brand globally as they did with Golden Goose sneakers.

Last Summer, the Los Angeles-based luxury fashion label already reworking cool vintage denim and apparel stocks expanded its sneaker line to add its first-ever eco-friendly style using a 100 percent recycled leather and suede alternative. The Eco Sneakers are in line with Re/Done’s exploration of bringing back to life ultimate classics but with a sustainable twist. The silhouette is rooted in the 80s and 90s, however, the construction uses innovative new materials to achieve the most sustainable results possible.

More recently, it has also launched a limited-edition capsule dedicated to the upcoming film Wonder Woman 1984. RAs an homage to the iconic styles of the ’80s in the U.S. and the powerful women who wore them, garments in the range feature old-school references evoking the feeling of nostalgia.

The brand opened a first store in Malibu where its digital-native soul blends with brick-and-mortar to create a truly omnichannel experience driven by conversational retail. 

The brand has gained popularity for its collaborations with other brands and KOLs, and its strong commitment to sustainability leading the way in the emerging upcycled luxury fashion industry. 

Re/done is currently available on its own official website (with worldwide shipping), and marketplaces such as Net-a-Porter and Revolve. 

Jacquemus – From The Mini Bag to a Whole New World

Source: Jacquemus

2020 has been a very difficult year for Fashion brands, and designers had to get even more creative to remain relevant to their audience. Jacquemus transformed this crisis into a huge opportunity and has been dominating Instagram with its savvy social media marketing strategy to keep the audience engaged amidst a global quarantine.

The quarantine left many with plenty of time to scroll through social media for a bit of escapism and Jacquemus did not miss the chance to entertain and transport its followers to the middle of a lavender field to take the front-row of his SS20 collection and make a mark in fashion history and remembered as “the pink fashion show”. 

Founder and designer in chief Simon Porte has become as much of a celebrity in his own right as the mega stars wearing his designs. His shows and bags have become cult classics and icons of French fashion and South of France provence cool art de vivre

Its social media success relies on the charm and imagination of Simon himself, who notes that he manages the brands Instagram account (which boasts 2.2 million followers) alone. By managing Jacquemus’ Instagram himself, Simon removes the barrier between designer and customers and creates a personal relationship.

Simon was only 20 years old when he created his brand Jacquemus, named after his mother’s maiden name. He promoted his designs by having friends wear his creations in shops during Vogue’s Fashion Night Out in 2010 in Paris and in 2012, he finally was invited to present his collection during Paris Fashion Week. In 201, he was a finalist for the LVMH Prize, in 2015 he won the Special Jury LVMH Prize, and in 2017 was awarded the Fashion Director’s Choice Award at the Elle Style Awards

He has described his creations as a “naïve” fashion for its simple cuts and workwear style. In 2017, Jacquemus added a line of footwear to his collections and menswear later in 2019. 

Jacquemus will always be remembered as the designer of “Le Petit Chiquito bag”, the miniature bag launched in 2018 loved by celebrities such as Rihanna and every single Kar-Jenner sister. After that, a whole new world started. 

Jacquemus pieces are now on sale in stores such as Opening Ceremony in New York, Broken Arm in Paris, Gago in Aix-en-Provence and Dover Street Market in London; in 2014, a collection was created for La Redoute. Players like Farfetch and Net-a-porter are also shipping his creations worldwide and second-hand market is picking up on the miniature bags and we feel Jacquemus label will soon expand into more global retail or pop up experiential concepts.

L:A Bruket – Simple, Natural and Local

la bruket
Source: LA:Bruket

Simple, Natural and Local – the key foundation of L:A Bruket – an organic skincare brand originated from Sweden.

Founded in 2007 by Monica Kylén and Mats Johansson, a husband-and-wife duo in the spa town of Varberg – west coast of Sweden, products are created to weather the harsh coastal conditions with natural and organic Swedish ingredients.

Started with a limited range of skincare products manufactured in the basement of Monica and Mats’ home, the brand has now established with an astonishing range of products spanning skincare, body and home care.

L:A Bruket’s branding is designed to take on a functional and industrial aesthetic – brown apothecary bottles and old prescription style labels ties back to their natural and straightforward approach. This brand value is also reflected in L:A Bruket’s retail concept. The store design embeds the close connection between the brand and Swedish history and culture, using a large number of unfinished natural materials and irregular lines, while echoing the core spirit of L:A Bruket – perfectly coexist with the wild nature and its ingredients.

With a record turnover of EUR 5 million in 2018, L:A Bruket has successfully captured the eye of Experienced Capital – a Paris-based fund, and sold 51% of stake in 2019. This is the first investment into cosmetics by Experienced Capital, and will notably enable the brand to accelerate its digital and market development.

Today the Swedish organic cosmetics brand is distributed in 47 countries with over 500 points of sales, including Liberty in London, Takashimaya and Isetan in Japan, Galleria in Seoul, Galeries Lafayette in France, and more. In parallel, L:A Bruket is working to expand its own branded boutique network. The brand currently has 8 standalone stores in Sweden, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Taipei and will speed up their expansion in the next coming years to tap into the huge beauty and bath & beauty market boosted by Covid-19 cleaning and cocooning trends

Stone Island – A 2021 Beyond Fashion, Beyond Luxury

Stone Island
Source: Stone Island

Stone Island is a casual menswear brand, established in 1982, which has become a symbol of extreme research on fibres and textiles, through the of dyes and treatments on the finished garment (“dyed garment”). Stone Island combines luxury, sportswear and streetwear, and its strong and distinctive brand identity kept the company resilient in 2020 with recorded Euro 240 million revenues, an increase of 1% compared to Euro 237 million in 2019. An excellent result especially in light of the difficult global context. 

In 2020 Stone Island generated 28% of revenues in the domestic market, 52% in the Rest of Europe and 20% in the Rest of the World. The wholesale channel accounted for 78% of revenues while the remaining 22% was generated by the online channel and by a network of 24 directly managed stores. 

The brand also closes 2020 with the announcement that Sportswear Company S.p.A., holding company of the brand, and Moncler S.p.A. have reached an agreement as a result of which Stone Island joins Moncler to develop together a new shared vision of luxury.

With this transaction, united by their “beyond fashion, beyond luxury” philosophy, these two Italian brands will strengthen indeed their ability to interpret  the evolving cultural codes of the new generations, reinforcing their positioning within the new luxury segment. 

The two brands together will strive for experientiality, inclusivity, a sense of belonging to a community and the mixing of diverse meanings and worlds including those of art, culture, music and sport.

Led by an entrepreneur of high renown, Stone Island is a great success story, a company that has built an exceptionally strong relationship with its community, offering a highly distinctive product, as a result of unique technical skills and an absolute clarity in its positioning. 

Carlo Rivetti, Chairman and CEO of Stone Island commented on the announcement: “Remo and I have decided to combine forces and visions to meet together and with greater strength than ever the challenges we all face. We share the same roots, similar entrepreneurial journeys and the utmost respect for the profound values of our brands and our people. And we are Italians. And so, begins a new chapter for Stone Island, the start of a journey that will help our brand to reach its full potential, while maintaining its strong brand identity and continuing to nurture its culture of research and experimentation. This is a partnership that represents a great opportunity for the continued development of both companies and which will help Stone Island accelerate its international growth thanks to Moncler’s experience in both the physical and digital retail world”. 

We are looking forward to see the joint development of the these two brands in Asia in 2021. 

Feiyue Shoes – The Kung Fu Sneakers

Source: Feiyue Sneakers

Originated in the Dafu rubber tire factory located in Shanghai, China in the 1920s, Feiyue is famous for its honest price positioning, flexible and lightweight canvas design. It was a go-to sneaker for martial art practitioners before 2006, when the brand reinvented itself as the streetwear brand we know today.

The classic blue-and-red striped sneaker was a fashion icon in the 1970s and 1980s with over 10 million pairs sold. However, in the 1990s, as consumers started to look into international brands, the brand lost prominence in China and went bankrupt. Liu Wangsheng and his business partner Liu Qinglong took over the Feiyue brand; while around the same time, a French entrepreneur, Patrice Bastian, sensed the potential for the sneaker to go global and bought the rights to sell Feiyue in France in 2016. 

The existence of two Feiyues – one in China and the other in France – led to a trademark battle, but it is undeniable that both manufacturers have contributed to the development of the brand. On the one hand, French Feiyue brought international fame and reintroduced Chinese consumers to the sneaker. Bastian improved the quality and design of the sneaker, while putting emphasis on the Chinese heritage of the brand and that the Shaolin monks wear the shoes for martial arts training. In 2008, Hollywood actor Orlando Bloom was seen wearing a pair of Feiyue shoes on the set of the film “New York, I Love You.” The brand also partnered with French fashion house Celine to launch a limited edition high-top sneaker.

On the other hand, Feiyue Dafu kept the original design and improved its brand marketing to target local Chinese consumers. Feiyue Dafu differentiated itself from the French Feiyue by adding the word Dafu on the sole of the shoes. It used the social networking site to run online stores to approach more consumers. It also collaborated with Disney to launch a Star Wars series in 2015 that opened opportunities to collaborate with international brands such as Pepsi and Marvel in 2016. Feiyue Dafu is also featured in the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. To boost creativity, the Feiyue team has hired more than 10 designers with an average age of 30. 

Today, Feiyue is popular in China among Gen Z consumers for its streetwear fashion and the love for retro heritage brands, as well as the older generation consumers who grew up wearing Feiyue. Feiyue Dafu has over 300 distributors and 700 offline retail stores. The trademark split will be an issue in the future global retail development of the brand with pricing gap between markets and different image and collections.

As a proud “Made in China” sneaker brand with very attractive price point and good value for money, Feiyue has a bright future in China and it is interesting to see how it will evolve oversea. Feiyue literally means “Flying Forward”. It symbolizes the dual elevation of the body and mind. 

Rolex- The Neverending Story 

Rolex 1:
Source: Rolex

There is no need to introduce Rolex, since we were young we have been looking at those dive watches, powerful statements, on the wrists of successful men and women. 

The Swiss luxury watch manufacturer based in Geneva, Switzerland, and originally founded as Wilsdorf and Davis by Hans Wilsdorf and Alfred Davis in London, England in 1905, did not keep it quiet in 2020. 

This was a difficult year for the watch industry but it was also the year of the truth, during which we could observe how brands true to their DNA and with a solid customer-base with hero products have been resilient and able to navigate through the biggest storm ever.

Commit to memory: Twelve-forty-sixty”. The only number to remember for 2020 is the new no-date Rolex Submariner 41mm Ref 124060. The Submariner, one of the world’s most iconic dive watches, introduced in 1953 and revamped in 2012 is back and difficult to get in-store. Waiting lists can last up to 2 years and hard to get into if not a local VIP customer. 

The desirability built by the brand through these long waiting lists is one of the core elements to maintain the status of luxury. Somehow it is the brand choosing its customers that for some specific models need to show a track record to be eligible for the purchase. 

And besides brand new collections, we can’t forget the selling records of Rolex in the pre-owned luxury watch market. On October 26, 2017, a single Daytona wristwatch, also known as Paul Newman’s watch, had sold for a record-setting $17.8 million. Why that particular watch—a not-that-rare 1968 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona Reference 6239—would attract so much money? It is all about the storytelling created throughout the years and linked to aspirational elements such as collectable pieces, racing, celebrities. 

Probably, this 2020, making all of us re-assessing our priorities has posed hard luxury goods representing timelessness and precious gifts to be passed on generations have become even more relevant, and there is no other name that would cross our mind if not Rolex. 

Venchi- From Italy with Love 

Venchi gelato
Source: Venchi

If you are looking for lifestyle chocolate gift, or authentic gelato treat, Venchi is the answer. With 350 different recipes for chocolate products, 90 gelato flavours, Venchi became quickly an icon of Italian dolce vita in the world.

In 2019,  La Repubblica, an Italian media, reported that Venchi registered a turnover of Euro 100 mln, doubling the results of the previous year, with 33% from export, and whose 10% coming from Mainland China. In 2020 the brand had impressively continued its Asian expansion with investments on opening of new markets and stores. 

Daniele Ferrero, Chairman & CEO Venchi Spa oversees the expansion of the gourmet chocolate brand that has been enchanting Asia consumers for its unique flavours, as a result of traditional recipes and the best ingredients from the headquarters in Piedmont, Italy. 

In an interview with Retail in Asia at the beginning of the year, he had shared with us a bit of history of the brand explaining how it all began  in 1878, with Silviano Venchi, a 20-year-old from Turin who loved chocolate so much he spent all his savings on two bronze cauldrons and began to experiment, first in his apartment, then in a small place on Via degli Artisti in Borgo Vaniglia, Turin.

“Today, there is no longer the royal coat of arms on the packaging, but the passion, meticulous care and courage to experiment remain. He said

With 140 years of history, today Venchi has international recognition with more than 350 chocolate recipes and 90 gelato flavours, available in more than 70 countries in key cities such as London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai, New York, and now Taipei, where the brand features the biggest chocolate waterfall of all time in the name of beauty, joy and conviviality, transforming “Made in Italy” into “Experienced like in Italy”. 

The brand currently counts over 145 stores worldwide with over 45 across Mainland China, Hong Kong,  Macau, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan, 10 of those opened in 2020. 

The mission of the brand is to bring the accessible Italian experience of Venchi Gelato and chocolate to the world, transforming every simple encounter into a nice moment of sharing and celebration.

About the author

Photo credits: Laurent Segretier

Samy Redjeb is currently Managing Director at Bluebell HK, Macau & Taiwan, Director of Owndays HK and Brunello Cucinelli Taiwan JVs.

Prior to his position as MD, he was Group Development Director at Bluebell since 2012 and his role was to profile and identify brands to set up distribution partnerships ranking from startups to mega brands in various categories in Asia.

He was instrumental in setting up new partnerships with brands such as Manolo Blahnik, Kusmi Tea, Daniel Wellington, Brunello Cucinelli, Owndays, and more. His expertise covers multi-channel distribution, branding, equity investment, leasing.

Contact Bluebell Group