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Martha Stewart's path to the Chinese consumer involves Alibaba

Martha Stewart
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Martha Stewart

Her name is synonymous with all things home, from holiday hosting to decorating and wedding planning.

That said, will the Martha Stewart name translate in China? The domestic diva is en route there now to find out.

Sequential Brands, which owns the Martha Stewart brand, and Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba are announcing a partnership that kicks off with a Tmall Super Kitchen event—headlined by the lifestyle guru herself.

It's the beginning of what Sequential Brands CEO Yehuda Shmidman calls "the first step in a long relationship," the result of a "culmination of many months of discussion with Alibaba."

In Shanghai on Tuesday, Stewart will give the keynote address at the inaugural exhibition with approximately 1,200 house-ware partners. Her address will also be broadcast live on Alibaba's media network.

Stewart's keynote will share her philosophies on living and curating one's home, undoubtedly full of "good things," as the doyenne herself might say.

Even if its economy is slowing, China is a large consumer market, with a middle class growing in number and financial means. Alibaba is the world's largest e-commerce network, with more than 430 million average annual users.

But how well the domestic doyenne's 18,000 recipes and concepts in her 87 books are able to make the transition to Chinese culture remains a question mark.

"It may not be as literal as a kale salad recipe" Shmidman says. He explains that Alibaba believes Chinese consumers will look to Martha as they become more modernized, and ask questions on how to style homes and purpose each room.

Shmidman admits he doesn't know exactly how many consumers really know Stewart, but after this week he thinks he will have better idea.

"Alibaba tells us the trends in the Chinese consumer towards urbanization are leading to modernization and then to Westernization, particularly the notion that people are putting money into their homes for the first time," the CEO says.

It is Martha Stewart first significant international foray since the company been under the ownership of Sequential, though international and digital growth has been the vision from the beginning. This partnership checks both of those boxes.

Martha Stewart has a partnership with Hudson's Bay in Canada currently, and many of her books have been translated into multiple languages including Mandarin.

Sequential Brands is an asset-light business model, owning intellectual property such as branding and designs, but not the actual goods. Shmidman says that once there's demand from consumers and retailers, Sequential could initiate the supply chain to "quickly" get the Martha products to the Chinese market.