Product Development Strategies in Retail Accelerated Course in China, May 2018

A group of UW students studied in China for the Spring 2018 semester. The unique program supported by Zhejiang International Studies University (ZISU) fully immerses the students in the Chinese culture while they live on campus in the city of Hangzhou. Chinese students and host families help the students get acclimated to the city, campus and culture. In turn, the UW students help their hosts improve their English language skills and learn about American culture.

Throughout the spring 2018 semester, students enrolled in courses about Chinese history, culture and social issues as well as Mandarin Chinese in additional to accelerated 3-week course taught by visiting UW faculty associate, Dr. Nancy Murray, Product Development Strategies in Retail.

After a week of intense classroom learning about Product Development, students embarked on a whirlwind tour of corporate office visits to Alibaba, Li & Fung, Macy*s Merchandising Group, Ascena Sourcing, Macy*s China, plus various factory tours and the Port of Hong Kong shipping yard.

We visited the e-commerce giant, Alibaba. Conveniently, their headquarters is also in Hangzhou. Hangzhou was once primarily a destination for tourists heading to West Lake, additionally, Alibaba's growth has added to the city's draw. Now Hangzhou is also known as a place for start ups and heavily influences China’s tech industry. Many Alibaba alumni have also founded large companies that are based in the city. Alibaba's "Singles Day" shopping event (11/11) is well-known worldwide and American celebrities are known to go to China to help promote it.

Eating lunch in the Alibaba employee cafeteria

We visited the day before "Alibaba Day" which takes place yearly on the 10th of May. While we were there, people were setting up for this approaching event where employees’ families are invited to campus to partake in an all day carnival. The day festivities is a symbol of valuing employees as family. In 2003, during China’s SARS epidemic, an Alibaba employee was misdiagnosed as being infected with SARS. As a precaution, Alibaba employees ran the business from their homes, often enlisting their parents or grandparents for help. The festival is “the company’s way of saying thank you to the families.”

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China. It has a separate political and economic system along with its own currency. Hong Kong was under British rule until 1997, and has become one of the most significant financial centers and trade ports in the world.

We stayed at the same hotel as a faculty led study abroad group from UW-Stout & joined them for some touring. Thank you Dr. David Ding!
"Li & Fung plans to continue improvement by focusing on their core themes: speed, innovation, and digitalization. I enjoyed this presentation particularly for their cutting-edge technology leveraged by unique supply chain sustainability. I respect Li & Fung's commitment to responsible sourcing and community involvement." Alex, ExChina '18 student

Macy*s China

Meeting with EVP of Macy*s China, Mr. Dustin Jones
"Dustin stressed that times are changing and in order to be ahead of the game, we need to be aware of the fact that positions in the retail field are likely going to change within the next few years. Being adaptive and innovative are going to be key characteristics you should posses if you want be successful in this field." ~Julia, ExC'18 student
Connecting with Mr. Jones on WeChat: the most popular way of communicating in China

Ascena Global Sourcing

Brands: Ann Taylor, LOFT, Maurices, Justice, Dress Barn, Lou & Grey, Catherine's and Lane Bryant

One of the things we learned at Ascena is how the retailer-supplier-manufacturer relationship has changed over time with the supplier needing to also provide trend insights and product development today. ~ Mara, ExChina '18 student

Macy*s Merchandise Group

A completely separate office and entity from Macy*s China, Macy*s Merchandise Group (MMG) handles all of the product development, sourcing and supply chain for Macy*s private and exclusive brands

"When sourcing your product on a global scale the geo-political implications are so important. Some countries are more unstable than others in regards to war, strikes, and other unrest. Some countries have capabilities with certain workers and fabrics that others do not. Balancing all of these factors while trying to maintain your price point seems to me like a big game of chess." ~Hunter, ExChina '18 student
Overview of Macy*s Social Responsibility Standards and Audit Program
Children's Wear Specifications & Testing
Garment Fitting Demonstration & Review
Various sizes of fit mannequins
Sourcing & Production Overview for Cookware
"After we met with MMG, I found a new love for supply chain and logistics! I found it intriguing how many parts go into just one product being shipped" ~Julia, ExChina'18 student

Shipping yard in Hong Kong

When it comes to global trade and the transportation of goods, containerized shipping is one of the essential elements. Raw materials are delivered in containers to the factories; after production, shipments of the finished products are loaded into containers and taken to the ports to be loaded on to vessels to be shipped all over the world.

We visited the company, Hapag-Lloyd in the Hong Kong shiping yard to learn more about logistics.

"This is an import part of logistics and it was very intriguing to look at the shipyard map and see how everything is laid out. It’s like a game of Tetris, everything must fit just right, or nothing is correct. This helped me understand the bigger picture of retail; that there is a process of getting your products from point A to B. I now better understand that the planning process is a lot longer and more detailed than I had previously thought before the shipyard tour and the other office visits." ~Melissa, ExChina '18 student
Overall, getting the chance to visit these companies and talk with knowledgeable retail professionals was a great opportunity as a student. I will take away information and advice from every visit and use it to grow as a young professional myself. I look forward to the chance to get more hands on experience in the retail world in the future! ~Emma, ExChina '18 Student

UW Alum in Hong Kong Gathering

We attended the UW Alum Founder's Day Celebration and dinner event at the Helfit Lifestyle Club, Hong Kong. One of the alum in attendance was Penny Peng, 2016 Retail and Consumer Behavior Graduate!

Factory Tours

Our first factory tour was a vertical cashmere factory. It is considered a vertical factory because they harvest their own cashmere fibers, knit the yarn, and produce the final products.

I learned more about the quality control. Sometimes I think that people tend to brush over it but this factory really cared about the product that was being sent out so that it was free of variation. I was very excited to see the various ways that sustainability was approached. It made me even happier when they talked about it with pride. I learned about other ways to introduce sustainability into the supply chain. ~Lily, ExChina '18 student

Next we were given a tour by a second generation owner of a woven factory. He has other factories in Vietnam & Taiwan as well.

Inspection of the fabric prior to cutting
Automated process of marker placement and cutting of the fabric
The owner explaining the production quality goals and actual results shown on the screen
China has some of the most skillful labor for complicated sewing
Presentation by the factory owner in their new showroom

Our last factory tour was a bed sheet manufacturer. This factory was unique from the others as they partner with IKEA to provide dormitories and schooling for their employees and families.

The showroom
The VP of the factory gave an overview of the production
The testing lab: an abrasion and pilling test being performed
Lunch was provided for us at the company's "Canteen". The owner stopped by to say "Ni Hao"
"One thing that stuck out to me about Honglui was their after school program. Some factories have a bad reputation for not treating their employees well and this shows that Honglui is not one of them. They allow their employees to not only keep living with their family but also help their children receive a quality education. Additionally, visiting Honglui sparked a new interest in the home industry for me. I had never realized how much work goes into making bedding products like we were shown on our tour. I hope to work with these products in the future and apply this knowledge." ~Emma, ExChina '18 student

The Product Development Strategies in Retailing course concluded in Shanghai with another day with Li & Fung learning more about this massive and amazing company.

Mr. Kutluhan Samataci, Executive VP, Li & Fung Trading, presented to the students about how the One Belt One Road initiative maintains its upward trend and continues to gain momentum. He also shared how Li & Fung is responding to identified opportunites by creating the supply chain of the future, delivering speed, margin enhancement and innovation.
End of an exciting 3 weeks together!

"Dear Dr. Murray, It was a pleasure to spend time in China with you and to gain so much insight into the product development world. Thank you for providing us with such excellent learning opportunities. Wow, the jet lag and reverse culture shock were quite intense! Honestly, I really miss Chinese friends, food and adventures." ~Mara, ExChina '18 student upon returning to the USA

"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered." ~ Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999


The Product Development Strategies in Retail course in China is offered through the Experience China semester study abroad program every spring semester of even numbered years. Applications for spring 2020 will become available in 2019 and will be due by 11/1/19.

Go beyond your borders: When Marco Polo visited Hangzhou he described it as “the most beautiful and splendid city in the world.” As a student in the Experience China program, you’ll have a chance to see for yourself. You’ll enjoy your semester in of one of China’s most beautiful cities and, with Shanghai less than an hour away by train, you’ll be well positioned to enjoy the vast wonders of China. Your academic experience will be enriched by educational excursions and a buddy program with local students and families.

Why China: 35% of all apparel imports into the USA come from China. As a future designer, product developer or buyer, understanding and seeing the production and supply chain is an amazing opportunity that very few have, even current industry professionals. Many brands and retailers are also looking at expanding opportunities selling to consumers in China (ie. Macy*s) . Understanding the culture, customs and the consumers in China is best done by immersing yourself.

With Experience China your education happens just as much outside the classroom as inside. The relationship between the United States and China has been described as important, not only for the citizens of our two countries, but also for a new era of global development. Position yourself on the leading edge of this new era by immersing yourself in the historic, diverse, and complex culture of China.

Best value: The Experience China program remains one of the most cost effective study abroad options available. The program fee covers tuition, lodging, international health/ medical insurance, local transportation pass, on-site support, along with local field trips and some extended group travel throughout China.

For more information and insight:

This 3 minute video below was created by Experience China 2018 student, Julia. It depicts the fun and friendships made while traveling with the ExC program to some amazing places throughout China!

Survey responses of 2018 participating students:

What were the main reasons you chose to participate in Experience China?

  • To learn about the rich history and culture of China. Learn some mandarin Chinese. Explore a different world to understand more about global relations. Gain more independence to help inform future personal decisions.
  • I primarily chose to participate in this program because living in China is distinctly different from anything I have experienced in my American lifestyle and I believe that experiences where you do not know what to expect help to expand your perspective the most. Additionally, this Product Development course was a significant reason that I came to China. I wanted to experience a course for my major in a vastly different format and I believe that the firsthand experience we had in corporate offices and on factory tours was invaluable and incomparable to a simple classroom setting.
  • It was an experience I wouldn't easily come across in my career and I didn't have to learn Chinese to go. I was interested in the location. The PD class description is a main reason of why I thought it would be fun too!
  • To learn about the Chinese economy and retail opportunities. To meet Chinese people and learn about their interests and lifestyles.
  • The main reason I chose to participate was because of the PD course. Having the opportunity to visit factories first hand and look at how businesses abroad work was something that no other study abroad program offers. The program itself is also quite different from other programs as well. With experience China you get to travel to multiple cities with the program and learn about them firsthand. Overall this program is unique in the places you go and the setup which gives you an amazing opportunity to really immerse yourself into the Chinese culture.
  • When hearing about this opportunity in some of my classes, as well as SRA, I thought it was something I couldn't pass up. Aside from the incredible learning experience and a tool to help me explore my major, I saw it as something different than the norm. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and into my curiosity zone. In doing so, I have met some of my very best friends and have had among the best three months of my life.
  • To push myself out of my comfort zone! I have lived in the same city my whole life and almost didn’t believe that I could do anything different. I heard about the program in a class, became very interested and thought that this would be a great way to go out of my comfort zone and learn some things about myself. Also, academically it seemed like a great fit. China is very involved in the retail world and getting a chance to learn PD in China was almost a no brainer.
  • Experience China offered a nice balance between cultural exploration and business opportunity. I came here to get outside of my comfort zone and prepare myself for life after college. The global influence of China is seen in every industry. Coming here for three months was so important to my understanding of Chinese culture and their growing global influence. I came here to grow myself and my knowledge, to help me in life and my career. This trip has definitely done that.

What were the best things about the Experience China program?

  • Making Chinese friends and meeting students from other UW campuses. Exploring Chinese history and culture. Shopping. Classes from UW professors of various fields.
  • I would have to say traveling to all the different places and sightseeing.
  • I believe that the best part of the Experience China program was having an individual host buddy to welcome us to the ZISU campus and introduce us to Hangzhou. I enjoyed learning about the backgrounds of Chinese college students and how they differ from students of the same age group in America in terms of values, interests, and life experiences. Another great part of the Experience China program was the extensive travel opportunities offered throughout the course of the program. Nearly every weekend, we had the chance to visit a different part of China and discover the various lifestyles of Chinese citizens. While we spend much of the program in commercialized Eastern China, I particularly valued my time in rural Guilin in an autonomous region of Western China.
  • Certainly the location. I got to see so many things and meet so many people that I would have otherwise never seen.
  • I liked how we got to travel a lot. The buddy program and that we got to stay at their homes was great because we got to see how life is for a student our age in China. Since being in China for three months I now know what China is actually like which is not how it is displayed to the rest of the world. This program opened my eyes to seeing China's place in the world differently than I did before, which has made me love the country and want to share my experience with others.
  • One of the best things about going to China was the challenges. I learned so much from being there that I can use in my daily life. One major thing I have learned is to go with the flow more often. I hope I can bring this skill home with me.
  • The times we had to go out and explore on our own were my favorite parts of being here. Not only did every inch of this place have something new and exciting to offer, but I definitely gained some independence. If I can make it downtown using two buses and the subway without knowing any Mandarin, then I can do anything!
  • The best parts of the program were the host buddy program and host buddy stay. The host buddies help you navigate China from a college students perspective. We can't speak Chinese so they help us accomplish things that we otherwise wouldn't be able to. The host buddy stay also lets you experience life in a Chinese home and see family and social dynamics. That experience is so valuable. Another great thing about Experience China is the travel opportunities. We travel so much and see so many parts of China that people who live here don't even get to see. Traveling often is a lot but this program makes it seamless. You will see historical beauties and wonders of the world on this trip that you can't get anywhere else.

What were the best things about the Product Development Strategies course?

  • Actually visiting the factories and corporate offices which we will probably be working with in our future careers. Exploring HK and Shanghai areas with well-planned activities and clear expectations. Learning the "lingo" of PD.
  • The best things about the Product Development Strategies course was getting to see how the sweaters hanging inside my closet are made! That was so awesome and it definitely changed my perspective on China when others says “Things made in China are cheap.” Which is not always the case, since we saw very high end brand names being made.
  • The corporate visits and factory tours were real-world experiences in which employees dedicated much of their time to us were very educational and highly appreciated.
  • I was shocked at how many higher-ups we met! It was a wonderful thing though. Everyone gave us wonderful insights on the industry. The planning was thorough too and it helped our trips go smoothly.
  • Going to visit the factories and corporate offices! I feel like I understand more about the overall process of how retailing really works, which most people only see the side from the United States. I understand that there is so much more to the process than choosing what merchandise you want, in what quantity and what price. It takes a strong set of skilled people to get the product done from start to finish. This class will help me be better prepared for the rest of my college courses and for when I am working in the industry.
  • My favorite part about PD was getting to learn more about and visit Li & Fung. I think what they do is so interesting and before this class I didn’t realize all the work that goes into the clothes and other goods that I see in stores. I also enjoyed the section on trends. Even within the last couple of weeks, I have been a lot more attentive to trends that I see around China and back home through social media and online browsing.
  • Meeting with people at companies who were in important positions was very cool. We weren't just meeting with HR reps or recruiters, but rather people who had insight on the company and industry on a global level. The traveling aspect of the class was great as well because we got to see how different cities function in the grand scheme of things.
  • For me, the Product Development class was the highlight of my whole trip. Class wasn't a drag, I was excited about what we were learning about, the tours were amazing, and I finally narrowed down what I am truly interested in doing. I think when I have interviews in the future, I will never be short on things to say, because we've done it all here in China.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” ― Augustine of Hippo

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