If, having read last week’s article on travel company Global Nomad, you decided to go trekking, you may find you need some of the equipment produced by today’s guest, Swiss-born Hans Schallenberger! Nicely Made in China (NMiC) has found the perfect brand for you. Started 15 years ago but still barely known beyond China, Ozark [website in Chinese] sells outdoor gear exclusively to the Chinese market. NMiC talked to Mr Schallenberger, Ozark’s founder and managing director, to discover what has made the brand such a success story.
Mr Schallenberger, can you tell NMiC readers how Ozark came to life?
First and foremost we are a manufacturing company. Prior to setting up Ozark we were already manufacturing outdoor equipment for foreign brands – we still do – but originally all our production was for export. 15 years ago, there were no outdoor clothes and accessories on the Chinese market. China, with its incredible mountain ranges, had very few people interested in the outdoors in those days but I sensed that a day would come when there would be a market for these types of products. The first thing we did was to approach the China Mountaineering Association. It had only 30 members at the time! With backpacks full of mountain gear, we asked them if they believed there might be a market for such products. They explained that every time they went on an expedition they had to import all the equipment at great expense. This convinced me that it would be a good idea to start selling such products in China.
What happened next?
We then assembled a small team of designers in Beijing and began producing a limited range of garments, a few backpacks and some sleeping bags. Our first line – around 20 products in all – came out in the winter of 1996-97, and we opened 3 stores in Beijing. Today we own 62 stores across China and there are 220 franchised units. We feature around 500 products in our catalogue, all of which are manufactured in our factories in Wuhan and Shenzhen.
Who designs Ozark products?
Mainly our products are designed in Beijing by our in-house Chinese designers. Recently we started new collaborations with designers in Switzerland for garments and in Italy for shoes.
What type of material do you use for your garments?
It varies, depending on the type of activity, ranging from nylon or polyester with down fill or different insulation fills. These materials are strong and light which is an important factor. They also dry very quickly when wet. Our coatings are made of synthetic material to make them water and wind proof. High altitude climbers need wind-proof clothing rather than water-proof. Of course, we also use a lot of GORE-TEX®. We’ve actually become one of their biggest customers. Amongst our bestsellers is a GORE-TEX® Alpine jacket which is purpose-made for Alpine style mountaineering.
How did your products become known around China?
Over the years we’ve sponsored many expeditions, and this continues to be one of our most successful marketing tools. We started in 1996 and haven’t stopped since. For instance, in 2003 we sponsored China’s first private Everest expedition. We produced all the garments for the Olympic torch relay over Everest, and, in 1998 we launched the Tibet Mountain Guide School. This is part of the Tibetan Sports Committee where locals are trained to become mountain guides. There they are taught English, Mandarin, first aid, cooking…in short, all the skills needed on an expedition. Some of these young people have now been to the top of Everest 6 or 7 times!
Ozark is one of China’s most important brands but is not present on the international market. Why is that?
We focus on China for a very simple reason: in the US or in Europe there are so many other brands that we would have to lower our prices just to get a foot in the door. Outdoor sports are still very new in China so we have a growing market for many years to come.