Skip to Content

Martha Stewart Hits China with a Big Boost From Alibaba

AOL Build Speaker Series - Geoffrey Zakarian Discusses Career And New Projects With Martha StewartAOL Build Speaker Series - Geoffrey Zakarian Discusses Career And New Projects With Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart at the AOL Build Speaker Series at AOL HQ on July 13, 2016 in New York City. Mike Pont — WireImage/Getty Images

“So beautiful. So modern. So avant-garde.”

Those were the words of Martha Stewart as she tapped out a tweet in Shanghai at 5:26 a.m. Tuesday, snapping a photo of skyscrapers stretching high above the Chinese metropolis that’s now become one of her newest retail markets.

Stewart’s musings about Shanghai came as she was invited to town as part of a partnership with China’s perhaps most famous company, the Alibaba Group (BABA), which plunked her front and center at an exposition for kitchen goods Tuesday that it live-streamed on its platforms.

“Martha Stewart is coming to China!” Alibaba chirped on Twitter, not forgetting to remind readers of Stewart’s status as “the queen of all things #Home.”

That she is—at least, in the parts of the world that know her. But how many Chinese consumers have yet to find out who Martha Stewart even is? That’s the question pundits are asking, as they take note of the many more affluent Chinese who might not be all that interested in homemaking, given the steady supply of cheap domestic help at the ready. Some wonder whether Stewart will be able to replicate the humongous success she’s enjoyed in America, even with a full-throated endorsement from e-commerce behemoth Alibaba.

See also: Martha Stewart Just Ditched eBay for This E-Commerce Giant

“The essential hardware of the Martha Stewart way of life—a garden in which to grow food, an oven in which to bake it, and a large, stand-alone house—is still inaccessible to most Chinese. As a result, America’s lifestyle icon hardly registers in China,” wrote a Bloomberg columnist.

Stewart and Alibaba believe there is a market—even if analysts, or consumers for that matter, don’t know it yet.

“In this dynamic time there is an expanding wealth, and that is in turn creating a growing, young middle-class with unprecedented purchasing power,” Stewart said, according to a blog post published by Alibaba Tuesday ahead of her presentation. “They have the opportunity to focus on quality of life within their homes, using all the wonderful new products that you can get a glimpse of here at this show today.”

See also: The Entrepreneurs of Guangzhou

Sequential Brands, which acquired the Martha Stewart brand last June for $353 million, said that Stewart’s appearance Tuesday was just “the first step in a long relationship.” On Wednesday, Stewart was scheduled to meet with Alibaba executives, including CEO Daniel Zhang, in Hangzhou.

“Alibaba tells us the trends in the Chinese consumer towards urbanization are leading to modernization and then to Westernization,” Sequential Brands CEO Yehuda Shmidman told CNBC. “Particularly the notion that people are putting money into their homes for the first time.”

Stewart isn’t the only housewares brand getting help from Alibaba. Twenty-four international companies, including Germany’s Fissler and France’s Le Creuset, were invited to show at its first-ever nationwide “home festival,” the company said.

What did Stewart take away from this latest trip? First off, China sure had changed a lot since her first visit in 1982, she told the crowd, according to Ad Age. Back then, there were “no big skyscrapers,” and “very few automobiles.”

And when it comes to the Chinese kitchen, most of which tend to be smaller and veering away from the stereotypically Western open plan, homebuilders ought to stop scrimping. “Give a little more space to the home cook,” she said.