How Martha Stewart Is Plugging Her Brand in China, With Alibaba's Help

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Martha Stewart has some intriguing collaborations going on right now. In the U.S. she's working on a VH1 cooking show with Snoop Dogg. Meanwhile, she just flew to China to build her brand at a quirky live-streamed event hosted by e-commerce giant Alibaba.

Ms. Stewart is at work with Alibaba on "opportunities for future collaboration," according to a release that gave no details on what lifestyle products she will actually sell in China. But she gave a keynote speech at a Shanghai show promoting kitchenware that was hosted by Alibaba platform Tmall. Afterward she posed, at length and somewhat awkwardly, for photos with Tmall's humanoid cat mascot.

Ms. Stewart mused about China's "growing young middle class with unprecedented purchasing power" -- the people she will target with her brand, which is owned by Sequential Brands. And she talked about how much China has changed since she first visited in 1982 ("very few automobiles," "no big skyscrapers.")

Live-streaming is hot in China right now, and the event aired across Alibaba's video platforms, including Youku. The production quality was rough, with sound issues and background conversations picked up by the mic at points.

There was also some cringeworthy humor, such as when Ms. Stewart showed a photo of a wall of shelves holding her porcelain dishes. "I call the wall my 'Great Wall of China,'" she said. "Do you get that?"

Ms. Stewart has been thinking about how to reach China's growing middle class for some time; she told The Guardian last year that Alibaba founder Jack Ma had encouraged her, arguing that her past experiences at Kmart in the U.S. could have a parallel in contemporary China.

Fussing over the comforts of one's home has not traditionally been a big thing in China, but homewares seem to be taking off -- there are 21 Ikea stores in China now, and the company will add four to five new stores every year, according to Bloomberg.

That's fueled by the rise of China's consumer class. McKinsey has predicted that more than half of China's urban households will be in the upper middle class by 2020, compared to 14% in 2012. And China's government is working hard to shift to a more consumer-driven economy by encouraging urbanization and the kinds of big purchases that go along with new apartments.

Ms. Stewart wasn't selling anything at the Alibaba event, but she did plug a signifier of the American dream -- a big open kitchen. Chinese kitchens tend to be small and closed off; she suggested that homebuilders should "give a little more space to the home cook."