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Martha Stewart loves Alibaba, and here's why

  • Speaking at Gateway '17, Martha Stewart says she has been trying to reach China's growing middle class for some time.
  • Stewart applauds Alibaba CEO Jack Ma for allowing U.S. small businesses to sell their goods overseas and grow.
  • Fresh food and cosmetics are some of the U.S. exports that Alibaba is focusing on at its Detroit conference.

Martha Stewart says she's now a friend to Jack Ma and applauds how the CEO has been able to grow Alibaba.

"I'm a great admirer of what [Ma's] accomplished in encouraging sellers to find buyers through Alibaba," the domestic maven said Wednesday on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street," from the sidelines of Alibaba's Gateway '17 conference in Detroit.

The simple business plan from Ma, a billionaire Chinese businessman who was also at the conference, has allowed the China-based e-commerce player to grow into a "behemoth company," Stewart said.

Stewart sells her Macy's home collection products, such as bathroom towels and pots and pans, on Alibaba's platform, something that has been going "very good" and even sold out at one point, she said.

The conference highlights opportunities for American small businesses to grow in China.

Fresh food and cosmetics are some of the U.S. exports that Alibaba is focusing on at the conference.

"Right here in Detroit there are young entrepreneurs dying to find a marketplace for their products," Stewart said. "If the Chinese marketplace is a viable place for them to sell, can you imagine how many jobs it would encourage?"

Meanwhile, Stewart has been trying to reach China's growing middle class for some time. She told The Guardian last year that Ma was encouraging her, saying Stewart's past experiences at Kmart in the U.S. could ultimately roll over and reach more shoppers in China.

Stewart began her stint in retail by launching a small catering company in the 1970s.

Kmart brought Stewart on as a consultant in 1987, and a decade later she launched the Martha Stewart Living Everyday line, which sold more than $1 billion worth of products at Kmart stores at its peak in 2002.

Stewart's "main message" in partnering with Alibaba today, she said, is to encourage other American manufacturers to do the same — to sell U.S.-made goods via Alibaba's platform. She said businesspeople need to pay attention to the "immense growth" going on in Chinese retailing.

Stewart's meal-kit business, Martha & Marley Spoon, is available on Alibaba's rival site, Amazon.com.

"I think Jeff Bezos, with ... Amazon buying Whole Foods, you are going to be seeing meal kits being sold through Whole Foods," she said. "This is a real opportunity."

In Detroit this week, Ma called out counterfeit goods as being the "cancer" of Alibaba, something the e-retailer, along with Amazon, has struggled with in the past.

As these two e-commerce players spread their wings into new territory, knock-off retailers continue to be one of their biggest obstacles to winning more shoppers and sellers online.

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