Changing luxury fashion trends in China – and what it means for Western brands

China is a huge and rapidly growing market for designer fashion brands, driven by rising material wealth, a long-standing love of luxury goods and increasing affluence. In fact, almost 50% of the world’s luxury retail sales are now made in China and these figures look set to grow. But whereas Western fashion houses used to dominate the couture space, Chinese luxury fashion brands are now beginning to take over – especially amongst the tech-savvy and unique millennial audience. So what does this mean for Western brands?

The changing face of couture in China

Until recently, China customers craved their couture from the original luxury European and American fashion houses, with brands such as Gucci, Prada, Cartier, and Chanel representing the ultimate in desirability for Chinese fashion lovers. But the market is evolving, and now the ‘Made in China’ marque is gaining traction and value in this sophisticated market. In fact, brands such as Burberry and Louis Vuitton have even closed flagship stores in key cities in China due to a slump in demand, and a significant artistic, cultural and aesthetic shift is now occurring in the fashion space.

Chinese designers such as Hu Sheguang, Yueqi Qi and Guo Pei are now appearing on catwalks the world over – from Paris to Shanghai, and interest in these home-grown brands is growing sharply, especially amongst Chinese millennials and the emerging Gen X market. After all, these designers have been trained in the most prestigious global fashion schools and then brought their skills back home to China, which is home to the most technologically advanced production facilities – and huge demand from wealthy customers.

True, the global market for luxury consumption has wavered in the wake of the pandemic, and many countries chose to put their national fashion weeks on hold this year (with China Fashion Week in May being a notable exception that put local talent firmly in the spotlight, including YoungX, Jumper Zhang and L’arôme.) But perhaps the bigger challenge that has faced Chinese designers is the lingering and formerly negative connotation of ‘Made in China’ – now only just moving away from a sense of mass-produced inferiority (and fakes), to a sense of fashion-forward, innovative and top-quality products.

For years, European brands have been producing many of their lines in China, which actually boasts some of the world’s most dynamic and cutting-edge textile factories and manufacturing facilities. At the same time, young Chinese designers have been heading abroad to learn their skills, and are now returning home to make their mark. Suddenly, the reputation of ‘Made in China’ products is changing, and Chinese customers are becoming hugely excited by what they see in terms of uniqueness, textile engineering, fashion insight and production credentials, including sustainability.

In China, the fact that the country’s luxury consumer market is still rocketing at a dizzying pace is good news for designers, with customers who are keen to try new things as their wealth and status grow. Designers like Zander Zhou, Samuel Gui Yang and Guo Pei are celebrating a ‘proudly made in China’ strategy which is allowing them to win global success.

What do fashion brands need to know about Chinese fashionistas?

In China, affluent young customers do not want to have the same designer products as their peers – unlike in the West. They want to express their unique identity rather than follow trends blindly. Furthermore:

They are strongly patriotic and naturally inclined to support Chinese brands – with ‘post 95’ customers invariably opting for Chinese brands.
They are the ultimate nouveau riche, especially in the Gen-Z category, and hungry for new experiences and products.
They crave self-expression and individualism – and the sense of ‘individual exclusivity’ – but with a sense of heritage and a recognition of the value of their traditional upbringing.
Millennials and Gen-Z Chinese customers also want humour and a bit of swagger, and they are hugely fashion-forward, especially compared to earlier generations. This means that edgy, daring fashions are gaining traction in this market.
Young Chinese customers are also very willing to buy Chinese brands, and many European fashion houses have closed their flagship stores across China as a result of slumping demand.

How Western fashion brands should respond

It looks increasingly as though the ‘Made in China’ value proposition will successfully reposition to one of quality, innovation, technological advancement and overall desirability, especially amongst younger Chinese customers. But Western brands needn’t fear. The market is becoming less competitive as many incumbent Western brands have bowed out of the Chinese market during the pandemic. For smart, nimble and creative fashion brands, there are fantastic opportunities in China – with the right digital marketing. To maximise your chances of success:

1. Take your time to build your brand story and communicate it effectively, investing in this over time rather than looking to ‘shift products fast’.
2. Really invest in your digital marketing platforms and e-commerce offer so that these assets are seamless, slick and offer a superb customer experience, with familiar Chinese payment platforms, rapid fulfilment and so forth.
3. Work with the right KOLs to promote your fashion products to tightly defined niche target audiences
4. Consider partnering with Chinese brands to create exciting new collaborations which bring forth the best from different designers and cultures – the ultimate in ‘individual expressionism’.
5. Consider working with Chinese suppliers, artisans and partners in order to leverage your own domestic Chinese manufacturing links, with that necessary emphasis on being proudly ‘Made in China’.
6. Really invest in market research that allows you to define, understand and serve a niche in the best possible way – always understanding the unique attributes of the audience that you serve and recognising that your Chinese target audiences will invariably have different needs, wants, desires and characteristics to your Western customers.

Access expert help

Market Me China can help Western fashion brands to experience success in China. From setting up powerful KOL relationships and social media advertising campaigns, to running successful Baidu PPC campaigns, our native Chinese digital marketing experts understand what makes Chinese customers tick – and what Western brands need to do to be successful in this vast, sophisticated and tech-savvy market.

To find out more, please contact us in the first instance and we will be delighted to have an informal chat about your brand, your aspirations and the digital marketing services that we can offer you to assist, working on a flexible basis according to your business needs. We look forward to hearing from you.