The American dream | Exclusive interview with Joshua Schulman, Coach's brand president and chief executive

December 14,2018

Since the brand revitalisation in 2014, Coach has left its New York headquarters for the first time and come to China to hold a full range of products launching. At the press conference in Shanghai, people are walking along the streets as they were in New York City. The whistle of the train, the flashing neon lights and the restaurants and bars are intertwined. The New York brand is confidently showing his own American gene, telling the story of a realistic version of the American dream.

In 1941, Miles Cahn and Lillian Cahn, who immigrated from Europe to the United States, founded Coach with six craftsmen and then left a lot of groundbreaking moments: in the 1960s, Coach became the first American leather goods to establish a sales point overseas. The brand hired the famous casual wear designer Bonnie Cashin as the first creative director, a pioneer of the leather goods; in 2014 the brand began to transform, from a classic leather goods brand into a younger high-end lifestyle brand.

After 15 years of entering the Chinese market, Coach has undergone a series of transformations. In the interview with Luxe.CO, Joshua Schulman, Coach’s president and chief executive said: “Young people in China see us as a comprehensive lifestyle brand, not just leather or accessory brand.” More importantly, "China is the first market to truly accept the ready-to-wear business. Young Chinese guests will really choose Coach from head to toe."

© Orangimage Studio

“As an executive, my joy in the job is to go deep into the local market and meet consumers of all ages and understand their ideas and needs, rather than staying at the New York headquarters,” says Joshua Schulman.
He recalled that the first visit to China dates back to 1997. During these 20 years, he frequently walked into every corner of the Chinese market. In addition to the first-tier cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Changsha, he has also been very impressed by a number of emerging cities such as Chengdu.

Schulman said: "The young people in China are full of energy and have a keen and strong opinion on fashion. They would be excited to share with me which bag they like the most." By visiting different cities, he has a deeper understanding of the atmosphere and culture in the Chinese market, therefore, it is more realistic to develop a more targeted retail strategy according to the local conditions.

The integration with the local Chinese market is also reflected in the efficient communication within the team. “When I first entered the business, what excites me the most is the luxury that shines in the store. After twenty-five years, only when being with my team brings me the same level of happiness.” Schulman said with exhilaration. A number of senior executives in the industry have recently said that an important challenge facing global luxury brands is effective communication between headquarters and overseas teams. Schulman emphasizes that team communication is not limited to the close relationship between headquarters and regional leaders but penetrates into all levels of the organization. “Communication is not just an old-school sit-down meeting, formal discussion, but a careful observation of the local market.” Here, he shared an innovative case of the Chinese team, “ A few years ago, the Coach China team observed the rapid rise of local mobile payments and suggested that more functionality should be developed for the category of the small leather goods to cater to the special needs of local consumers. Since then, Coach has increased the proportion of men's casual handbags, and its design is easy to place mobile devices such as mobile phones/iPads. Schulman commented: "Only a team that truly understands the Chinese market can have such a forward-looking perspective and be constantly aware of changes in consumer demand."

Models are wearing slim cuts and stitched shoes, exaggerated squares rimmed over floral pleated dresses and soft suede jackets, walking along the neon in New York.

© Mitchell Sams

On the evening of December 8th, Coach launched a new series of products in Shanghai, curated by its creative director Stuart Vevers. It is worth noting that this is also the brand's first overseas show outside of New York since 2014.

According to Luxe.CO's "Chinese Fashion Consumer Report 2018" published in London and Milan in September 2018, 17% of young consumers surveyed used fashion shows as their prioritised fashion news source, and this phenomenon is particularly prominent among respondents born after 1995.

Schulman believes that “this China premiere not only conveys the brand's respect for the local consumers but also the tribute to Stuart Vevers to Chinese native creatives.”

In this 2019 early autumn series released in Shanghai, Stuart Vevers teamed up with many Chinese creative talents of graphic design, sculpture and music. So there is a taste of artistic design factors twisted with the brand's classic elements.

The tyrannosaurus REXY by sculptor Sui Jianguo was printed on the bag, the band YETI OUT incorporated REXY into its iconic graphic, the ink painter Zhu Jingyi used the brush to reproduce the brand in a playful and smart way, graphic designer Hiroyuki re-imagined REXY in a hand-painted graffiti.

© Mitchell Sams

This integration of product and local creative culture undoubtedly highlights the brand's respect for the local market and conveys the brand's tolerance as modern luxury.
Till release of this article, the viewers' number of live broadcasts on Tencent of Coach show reached 1.5095 million, plus 5.204 million on Weibo, the number of fans interaction on WeChat have also achieved a remarkable peak record.

© Alyssa Greenberg

The transformed Coach continues to expand and renovate the modern luxury concept in the global market, especially in China, as of the first quarter of 2019, Coach has 210 stores in Greater China market, in mainland China, most of which have been presented in modern luxury retail areas such as Beijing SKP Shanghai IFC.

In the interview, Joshua Schulman also highlighted the WeClient membership management app launched by the brand in 2017. By linking to the WeChat account, consumers can enjoy the one-to-one service of the store's exclusive consultant, the system also provides advice on shopping preferences and regular maintenance reminders.

In response to the demand for China's e-commerce business, in September 2018, Coach teamed up with China's e-commerce giant for a pop-up store, exclusively selling of nine products of the Coach x Selena Gomez limited cooperation.

According to the “2017-China Fashion Consumption Survey Report” released by Luxe.CO, 23.8% of respondents still choose the official website of the brand as their first choice for fashion information. Schulman emphasized that although the digital marketing and e-commerce channels are being more diverse, the official website of the brand is still the foundation for shaping the brand image and consolidating the business, and the official website will be redesigned.

Looking back at Stuart Vevers's inauguration, Coach made its debut in New York Fashion Week in February 2014. The ready-to-wear collection brought a different halo to the brand. Schulman confirmed that in nearly 18 months to two years, the effect of this whole collection grew even stronger.

Stuart Vevers’s designs conveyed to consumers a strong sign that was different from the past. For example, this season, the IT Bag Dreamer handbag was upgraded to a gorgeous kiss lock, and the iconic C logo shading declared a strong return, which also confirmed Coach's keen capture of trends.

© Kevin Tachman

In addition to handbags, Coach has been enriching the product category in recent years, which not only greatly increases the proportion of ready-to-wear, but also takes men's products to new heights. In September 2018, Coach invited Michael Jordan as the first global spokesperson for men's products to 2019 SS. At the same time, this collaboration will include a collaboration with Stuart Vevers to design a special collection in the Coach Foundation's charity.

© Fashion bomb daily

It is worth noting that when Coach entered China, it was already positioned as a lifestyle brand and covered both men's and women's products. When talking about the brand's competitiveness in the menswear business, Schulman was very proud to introduce: “Few people know, at the beginning of Coach, it started with men's leather accessories." Over the past few years, Coach's men's business has achieved sales of $850 million worldwide and currently accounts for approximately 20% of the brand's annual sales. (As of June 30, 2018, in the 2017/18 fiscal year, Coach had annual sales of $4.22 billion). Schulman revealed that the medium-term goal of looking at the men's business is to achieve a sales of $1 billion in the next three years.

The Hong Kong Plaza flagship store in Shanghai has a designated men's area integrates all categories, including clothing, bags, accessories and shoes. Driven by street fashion culture and business leisure, Schulman believes that “male consumers are now showing themselves in a more bold and unbound way.”

According to the store sales consultant, in addition to the classic men's bag Metropolitan, the casual and fashionable bags attract more young consumers, such as the Rivington functional pockets and the Manhattan clutch. They observed that Chinese young men's choice of bags is no longer limited to the inherent shoulder bag or briefcase. They also began to try small-sized models such as clutches, which fully meet the needs of functionality and fashion.

This trend has been validated in a recent retail report by US consulting firm NPD, which showed that sales of various types and functions of pockets surged 52% till August 2018.

© Kevin Tachman

According to information provided by Coach, the performance of the men's fragrance business is also very prominent. Coach Perfume Authorized Manufacturer Inter Parfums Inc. released financial data on October 29th 2018, as of the third quarter Coach perfume sales increased by 42% to 22.5 million euros; mainly benefited from Coach men and women signature series and the successful launch of the Floral and Platinum. In addition, Coach watches authorized manufacturers is the famous Movado Group.

Looking forward to the entire fiscal year 2018/2019, Coach revealed its five major strategies for the future:
1) Continue to inject more innovative elements into the three aspects of product fashion, price and application;
2) Maximize the growth opportunities beyond the core ladies handbags and small leather goods, mainly in the following three areas:
Men's business: set a clear direction for development, and strive to exceed $1 billion in sales over the next three years
Women's footwear category: This category started well after the recovery of management rights this year. This category has great potential in all channels including wholesale.
Clothing category, especially coat: this is also a big growth area for Coach
3) Maintaining the authority of the fashion industry while expanding marketing information;
4) Taking consumers into creating a sense of excitement and participation, making good use of technology and digital innovation, and providing personalized services to enhance and improve the modern customer experience;
5) Further, promote digital innovation and the growth of e-commerce

At the end of the interview, Joshua Schulman presented Luxe.CO with a set of Coach antique bags on the first and second floors of the Hong Kong Plaza flagship store. These designs from Bonnie Cashin have become the timeless classics on New York street, and now the story of American dreamer will be continuously written and inherited under the reinterpretation of Stuart Vevers.


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