Scots hire Korean star to save their cashmere from the Chinese

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A South Korean actress will star in an international marketing drive by the Scottish cashmere industry that is designed to increase exports by up to £10m a year.

A South Korean actress will star in an international marketing drive by the Scottish cashmere industry that is designed to increase exports by up to £10m a year.

Song Youn-a, one of South Korea's most popular celebrities, has been signed up by cashmere firms to do for their products what Liz Hurley did for Versace, and vice versa.

The use of one of the Far East's biggest stars is part of a global drive to create new opportunities for an industry that is under pressure from Chinese and other rival textile manufacturers.

Having identified South Korea as the "new Japan", in that it provides great opportunities for growth, a team of businessmen from the Scottish borders held a lavish VIP reception in Seoul last week to promote the Cashmere Made In Scotland brand.

More than 300 managing directors and head buyers of South Korea's leading retail stores, including its answer to Harvey Nichols, Lotte and Samsung, were invited to a fashion show featuring the cashmere collections of leading international designers.

Matthew Williamson, Belinda Robertson, Elspeth Gibson, Edina Ronay and Clements Ribeiro designed outfits to show the quality of the Scottish brand.

Jim Thomson, the chairman of the Scottish Cashmere Club, said: "Scottish cashmere is recognised for its indisputable quality by retailers and designers throughout the world, but there is cheaper cashmere coming onto the market from China. We must continue to promote why Cashmere Made in Scotland is the only marque to buy.

"The Korean launch is a huge undertaking for us and represents a major sales drive into an important, and very discerning emerging market."

Sixteen out of the 20 manufacturers that make up the recently established Scottish Cashmere Club travelled to Korea for the first leg of the Far East promotion.

Today, they host a second reception in Japan where there is already a huge demand for cashmere products.

Italy and the United States are also on the list of countries the £850,000 campaign will concentrate on before the lifting of export controls in America in 2004.

There are fears that cheaper products from China will flood the United States, Europe and the Far East where sweaters carrying the Made in Scotland label sell for as much as £500 each.

Bilateral quotas on imports control the global textiles trade to prevent developing countries from flooding the market. But those restrictions are due to be lifted by the end of 2004, which could enable countries that have cheaper manufacturing costs to increase their share of the market by as much as $50bn.

Scotland's cashmere industry, which dates back more than 100 years, employs about 40,000 people whose wages are up to 36 times higher than those of employers in mainland China.

The cashmere industry, which recently had to weather threats of punitive trade tarriffs from the US in a dispute over banana imports, is worth more than £100m a year to Scotland, with about 90 per cent of products being sold to overseas buyers.

Susanah Cole, the textiles manager at Scottish Enterprise Borders, which are partly sponsoring the campaign, said: "China will represent a strong threat to our cashmere companies in Scotland.

"But it's like setting a basic bottle of whisky alongside the best matured malt. Scottish cashmere has a certain cachet with top designers and discerning buyers."