Dalian, China’s garment industry is said to have seen its heyday, cranking out millions of pieces on order to major brands. Today its garment enterprises have to struggle to stay afloat, due mainly to the fact that margins have grown thinner and the contract market more competitive.

So far, there are not that many widely recognized and accepted Dalian-based brands in the Chinese mainland market from which added value can be extracted.

For many in the local industry, the 17th Dalian International Garment Fair provided a preliminary answer to the question of where it should progress from here.

Li Guilian, chairman of Dayang Group, was the only person to have won two awards at the Fair: the ‘Entrepreneurial Achievement Award’ and ‘Star Entrepreneur’ title.

‘Dayang Group wears quite a few halos, but it is also facing a lot of pressure. I hope garment enterprises in Dalian will unite and make a collective effort to make breakthroughs,’ Li pleaded at the award-presentation ceremony.

Her comments actually won support from the industry, which seems to have concluded that unity means coordination, sharing, integration and complementarity where it comes to successful business. In any case, there is little point in competing when there are precious few areas of profit, people agreed.

In Li’s opinion, Dalian’s garment enterprises have not developed the synergy that their Wenzhou counterparts have managed to achieve, leaving them weaker as a garment community.

Being the largest garment maker in Dalian and one of China’s top 100 garment enterprises, Dayang is expected to have the financial muscle and capabilities to invigorate the industry, leading to the rise of a distinctly Dalian brand.

Advocating such breakthroughs suggests that Dalian’s garment entrepreneurs have made a step forward in how they perceive themselves, with the prospect of requiring the professional expertise needed in brand development.

There are many factors behind the success of the Dalian garment industry. As far as the internal environment is concerned, the city’s culture, geographical location and regional conditions all affect the direction of the industry.

The garment industry has a complementary infrastructure, but this only serves as the basis for development. What really seems to count is the so-called ‘soft environment’, including the right policies, systems and concepts, which still have much room for improvement.

The majority of garment enterprises in Dalian have developed through the accumulation of export orders. Bound by the traditional mentality of ‘contentment after making some money’, many enterprises have missed the opportunity for development, according to industry insiders.

‘Compared with some of the successful enterprises in the south [of the country], we are lacking in brand awareness and the urge to constantly improve ourselves,’ said Fang Xiaozhang, general manager of Sunflora Co Ltd.

Zest for new image.

Dalian manufacturers published their ideas for supporting the development of the local garment and accessories industries on the eve of the opening of the Dalian International Garment Fair. The document discusses in detail issues of concern to garment enterprises as well as the industrial layout and development priorities.

Dalian’s garment enterprises made a break from their usual lack of enthusiasm and demonstrated considerable zest in participation, brand image publicity and booth design originality at the Fair, observers said.

Local brands like Sunflora, Dingtelai and Renping reportedly did a creditable job of brand promotion.

Sunfed, a company specializing in women’s fashion also achieved results through an inspirational presentation at the Dalian Xinghai Alcazar Museum - showing that Dalian’s garment enterprises are seemingly putting greater faith in marketing and service development.

As Dalian’s executive vice mayor Wang Chengmin pointed out, the lifting of global textile quota in 2004 and the national policy of reinvigorating the old industrial bases in northeast