A household name from a past era is preparing for a style renaissance on wheels. Gan Tian tells us more about the new branding and the brains behind the revival.
Its bicycles were a must-have for almost every working family in China, and in its illustrious 70-year production history, the Shanghai Forever Bicycle Company, founded in 1940, must have made more than 100 million bikes. Now, it is bucking the trend and leading the way with a new range of retro chic bikes aimed at luring the younger generation away from the four-wheel evolution - the latest Forever C bicycles with 15 stylish designs. The new bikes have retained the simple structure that made the classic Forever black bikes so popular, but the two-wheel renaissance is bright with non-traditional colors such as yellow, blue and pink.
Part of the attraction: the childhood memories of its eager new consumers.
According to Huang Yuexin, a 26-year-old happy biker from Beijing, the Forever C bike he bought inherits the simplicity of the classic products of the Shanghai Forever Bicycle Company.
"When I was young, there was a giant black Forever bike in every family in our community," he says. But as he grew up, people like Huang gradually abandoned the two-wheelers for cars - a symbol of the booming economy.
This was another reason why Forever decided to bring back the bikes, with a new marketing strategy and a new team for the design.
Behind these trendy colorful bicycles is Crossing Design, a young team of 10 who are all in their 20s. They include a fashion designer, an architect, an industrial designer, a Web designer, a graphic designer and some others who specialize in advertising and marketing. But they all share a common thread - they are all urban citizens living in large cities like Shanghai, Hangzhou and Shenzhen, so their constant complaint is the congestion on the roads.
That is why they all believe that the best solution is to go back to bikes, but with a more stylish and fashionable approach.
"At first, we didn't design the bicycles. We just created some concepts for a new label," says team member Ye Xiaolong, who used to work in an advertising company.
The letter "C" of Forever C has multiple messages which sum up its target audience: China, classic, city, colorful, cycle and culture.
The company is aiming at a new generation of cyclists who are young and independent, aware of environmental issues, with a great passion for life and freedom. The word the team has coined to describe them is qingke, which literally means "light people" or light travelers.
Gao Shusan, also a team member in Crossing Design, claims he is one of these light travelers. He uses a Moleskin notebook and a Freitag bag, and by his side, a white Forever C bicycle gleams in the sunshine.
The team's first creation was 01-Pei
shan - a men's bike with all the elements of a traditional Forever bike: headlamp, two giant handlebars and a stable seat. But it was painted white, not black, and it had a leather seat.
"We simply took out all the unnecessary parts, and kept the classic design, and that was the first structure of 01-Peishan. We painted it white, and sent it to the company, and the response was good," Ye says.
The designers then created the remaining 14 different styles in just three months.
Besides bicycles, the company also offers other merchandise such as retro bags, T-shirts and other accessories.
Forever C launched on Taobao.com, China's largest online marketplace, on Sept 9, offering 990 bicycles. Each was priced between 699 ($105) and 999 yuan. Within two weeks, 428 bicycles were sold, 302 of which were from the "retro series".
"People pay attention to Forever C because it is a traditional brand's rejuvenation effort," says Chen Haiming, general manager of the Shanghai Forever Bicycle Company.
Forever C's first flagship store will open in Shanghai soon, and there will be more stores in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. There are already orders coming in from abroad.