Drop in Chinese Tourists Prompts Qiviuk Knitwear to Shift Retail Strategy [Feature Interview]

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Qiviuk, a Canadian luxury knitwear brand, is experiencing loss in sales due to a 90 percent decrease in Chinese tourists in Canada. Fernando Alvarez, the CEO of Qiviuk, discusses how the change is impacting the brand, new marketing strategies, and the future of Chinese tourism in Canada. 

Fernando Alvarez

The main demographic of Qiviuk is Chinese tourists and has had a significant impact on the brand as they are unable to visit the store and experience the products in person. Chinese tourism is struggling to return back to normal and there is no timeline on when it will return to levels prior to the pandemic. 

“It is surprising the Chinese tourism market has not snapped back to what it was before the pandemic. The challenge started when all travelers stopped because of Covid and it has been about two years and the recovery for Chinese tourism is still not great. Everyone is hopeful things will come to some normalcy and when it doesn’t – it comes with a price,” says Alvarez.

Alvarez says with its main demographic missing, it forces the brand to find new ways to reach target markets, such as using more digital marketing. This is allowing Alvarez to maintain consistency, keep existing consumers, create new relationships with shoppers and continue to educate consumers about the uniqueness of its products and concept. 

Image: Qiviuk at Fairmont Lake Louise

About the brand 

Qiviuk is a brand specializing in handcrafted and sustainable luxury clothing. Its focus is on creating high-quality knitwear garments, accessories and emphasizing sustainable craftsmanship. 

Located in Alberta, the brand uses the world’s finest wool fiber including ultra-rare fibers such as Muskox located in the Canadian High Arctic, which is known for its quality and luxury. The brand also uses merino wool, cashmere, mulberry silk yarn, alpaca, bison and more. 

The name Qiviuk originates from Qiviut – “the warmest, softest wool fiber and yarn found on earth.” The brand has partnered with the Arctic Indigenous population in Canada to help produce its products and consumers can find a variety of products including clothing for women, men, children and accessories. The best selling products are its Muskox and Plaza collection. 

“We have a coordinated effort in an agreement with the producing communities in the North. We have taken a lot of careful steps, crafting and we use methods suitable for each specific item, some being by hand and some with advanced technology that we have either developed or obtained. We have managed to put the concept together through a lot of effort, creative approach and with a lot of sensibility to the people behind the native communities in the North, to the people that transform it and where we deliver.”

Qiviuk has two boutiques in Alberta: Fairmont Banff Spring and at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. It also has one shop-in-shop at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. 

New Marketing Strategies 

After losing a huge amount of in-store shoppers, Alvarez says the brand created a new marketing strategy to stay connected with Chinese shoppers. The brand has redirected its focus by using more digital techniques such as the Little Red Book, influencers and other social media channels to reach the Chinese market. 

“The question of whether we can gain our loss back through digital media is still to be seen but, we have done extensive research that indicates yes, we can do that. The advantage of marketing through digital platforms is you don’t have the physical limits of the amount of people you can have.” 

Image: Qiviuk

The brand is learning about enhancing its brand presence and about the importance of diving into new markets. Alvarez says the brand is looking into expanding into other markets such as other Asian countries, Europe, the Middle East and will also be looking to seek opportunities in China. 

“It is a constant challenge, especially for niche luxury brands like ours. You have to be able to sustain your philosophy and your quality of products consistently, even when this huge cycle affects your revenue stream. You have to be able to convey your life and the brand’s story, but we have learned we have to keep working on it consistently so we can get to where we need to go.”  

Will Chinese Tourism Return?

Alvarez says one of the main reasons why Chinese are reluctant to visit Canada is because of politics. 

“There is an underlying situation with the political issues that has happened between China and Canada, and of course I am not a political commentator, but certainly that has not helped. There is a perception that Canada is not as a welcome destination as it was before and of course that is not true.” 

Image: Qiviuk

Another reason could be due to the lack of routes, capacity on airlines and the restructuring of visa offices. These elements, Alvarez says, need addressing: “Chinese tourism industry will not return back to normal until they have been and there has to be improvement including the perceived relations between Canada and China as it is still not quite there yet.” 

“It affects the whole world. The Chinese market is where many brands placed all their hopes and growth into. We are seeing some return starting to happen in Europe and in Japan, but it has not returned to Canada yet. Every luxury brand in the world has had to see and react to this change in the Chinese market. Some think the Chinese market will return as soon as in the next few months, some think it will take at least three years – I think it will come back now.” 

Shelby Hautala
Shelby Hautala
Shelby Hautala, based in Toronto, is a new Journalist to Retail Insider. She has experience writing for local newspapers and also internationally for Helsinki Times while she lived in Finland. Shelby holds a Bachelor of Journalism Honours degree from the University of King’s College and a Social Work degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax.

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