The fashion industry in China has been growing steadily with an increasing part of the population having greater purchasing power than ever before, and more interest in clothing as a form or fashion style rather than just as a need. Traditional styles have changed dramatically as well over the years, with the rising popularity of new fashion trends that have flooded the Chinese market. Now, fashion is one of China’s most lucrative industries, with foreign companies looking for ways to get a foothold into the world’s most populous country. After all, who doesn’t want to have access to such a large consumer market? Even though foreign brands want to seize this opportunity, not all are aware of how different Chinese culture can be from Western countries when it comes to fashion and trends. Understanding and taking interest in the Chinese market is key if you want to successfully attract Chinese consumers. In this article, we will give an overview of the Chinese Fashion Market, as well as some tips and advice in order to market the best way possible your fashion brand in China.

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Fashion in China: A Booming and Lucrative Market

(© Myfashionlife)

In China, fashion is everywhere in the streets, commercial centers, e-commerce platforms, TV, and of course on social media. There is a multitude of ways for brands to market themselves in this culturally diverse country and get their products out there amongst consumers who crave attractive designs at reasonable prices.

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The Fashion & Apparel Market: China’s Favorite Industry

China’s fashion industry is one of the most profitable in the world. At the end of 2020, China surpassed the USA in the Fashion & Apparel Market. Over the past 10 years, it has grown almost 4 times bigger. China’s fashion market is growing at the rate of 25% per year, reaching 121 billion USD in terms of total annual sales in 2019. That is 1 billion USD more than that of the USA, with the USA fashion growth rate stuck at 3% per year.

On top of that, China is not only a lucrative market for brands, but it is also a promising one as according to McKinsey, Chinese consumers will account for 40% of the world’s luxury spending by 2025. With this huge potential market, brands can possibly attract more than 1 million consumers just by focusing their marketing strategies on China.

China’s Fashion Market Amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic

A woman wearing a protective face mask stands at Yves Saint Laurent shop in Guangzhou (© Shutterstock)

Nevertheless, following the Covid-19 outbreak, fashion executives have been working hard to keep their industry afloat in recent months, and the tough decisions they’ve made are starting to show. For example, many companies have begun reconnecting with their supply chains as a result of disruptions that occurred over these past two years; others are making economic calculations about how profitable stores can be—and what return on investment is necessary for them to succeed.

In fact, according to McKinsey’s Global Fashion Index,  the global fashion industry’s economic profit fell by 93% between 2019 and 2020, after a 4% increase in 2019, which is particularly due to the fact that numerous companies are considered as ‘value destroyers’.

Meanwhile, omnichannel services were ramped up by these fashion firms because such advancements will be crucial if consumers want to have competitive prices from other retailers who also offer online shopping opportunities. After witnessing record low profits, fashion companies are now trying to get over this by focusing on the Chinese market, which is resurging again, thanks to consumers that are ready to spend more than before. But, on the other hand, it is not to be denied that the pandemic has particularly benefited Chinese brands, with Chinese consumers looking to be less dependent on foreign brands and be more patriotic to support China’s economy.

A special-edition Masha Ma pollution mask, available on Yoox’s Chinese site (© Courtesy Photo)

Moreover, they are in general more reactive and quicker than foreign brands to adapt to Chinese citizens’ concerns. For example, Chinese fashion brands have reacted quickly to the pandemic (as well as air pollution), by distributing health and safety guides while also offering their customers colorful masks that will help them breathe easily.

Why is China the Eldorado for International Fashion Brands?

The Chinese online fashion market is on the rise and is now larger than the USA and Europe combined. The analysis reveals that with a turnover reaching 126 billion U.S. dollars in 2016, China was already among the leaders in the industry.

According to Statista Digital Market Outlook report data, there are three major factors contributing to this immense growth: high disposable income, fashion trend, coupled with Chinese consumers’ willingness to pay more for high-quality products.

One of the reasons why the Chinese market is so lucrative is because it is benefiting from:

  • Relatively low material, transportation and labor costs, which are making the clothes more affordable
  • Presence from both low-cost and high-cost merchants on the market (= diversified, so everyone can choose according to their needs and income)
  • A huge population: Potential market of 1.4 billion consumers!
  • Chinese consumers are loyal: if they are satisfied with a brand, they will be most likely to purchase from the same brand again, and even share their good experience on social media (which is the best advertisment for fashion brands)
  • Chinese consumers are spending a lot more on fashion than elswhere in the world
  • The competition is tough, but the market is not considered as saturated as new companies are paving their way
  • Chinese people are more interested in fashion than ever before
  • Connected and engaged Gen Z, sharing and posting pictures and videos of fashion items

Two main categories of fashion brands in China:

  • Mass distribution brands: such as Ochirly for the domestic ones or Zara and Uniqlo for the foreign ones – they provide fashionable and affordable clothes that can satisfy all consumers (mostly young people)
  • High-end and luxury fashion brands such as Burberry, Prada, Louis Vuitton, etc: targetting high-income consumers who prefer high-quality luxurious fashion goods.

So, considering the volume of the fashion market in China, its growth, its capacity, and also the position of foreign brands here, it is clear that at the moment, there is no other market comparable to the Chinese one.

E-commerce: Contributing to China’s Fashion Success Story

Chinese Street Fashion (© Douyin)

Following international brands’ success stories in China, it has become essential for them to leverage marketing strategies such as expanding into new territories (e-commerce), social media outreach, collaborations with local artists and designers, as well as more traditional methods such as advertising, have seen huge successes within the Chinese market. As globalization continues apace, it will be important for international players not just from Western countries but also Asian countries such as Japan & Korea – that are extremely popular in China – to target as well Chinese consumers.

Gucci on Tmall

As mentioned earlier, a consequent part of fashion’s democratization and popularity in China is linked to the omnipresence of e-commerce platforms. Now indispensable in Chinese people’s daily life, e-commerce platforms allow consumers to browse millions of fashion items and receive them directly at their doorstep within a few days.

The Chinese fashion market is flourishing, with rapidly increasing revenue. As there are many factors that contribute to the growth of online commerce profits, better quality products, and a shift away from brick-and-mortar stores, the online fashion industry is expected to grow in China by 285.981,4 million U.S dollars by 2025 according to the Digital Market Outlook report.

When looking at the above data, we can see that the dominant segment in terms of fashion on e-commerce platforms is the apparel one, followed by bags and accessories, and footwear. The apparel segment is in fact also the most promising and engaging one, as trends are always evolving, pushing people to regularly purchase.

What Are the Most Popular Segments for Fashion Brands in China?

  • Leading fashion categories among Generation Z consumers

Fashion is the avenue for showing one’s personality and values to the world, but few have taken this concept as seriously as China’s Gen-Z consumers. In a survey conducted in 2020 among Chinese consumers born between 1995 and after, 24.3% of respondents indicated that they prefer streetwear brands over more traditional clothes such as suits or gowns. This is in fact an interesting shift compared to the older generations who often associated their appearance with class status rather than their fashion style preference. As you can see above, the trends have been the same during recent years, and are expected to last for years to come as well, even though the styles and designs will be completely remodeled by then.

  • Streetwear brands
Adidas Ad for the Chinese New Year (© Adidas)

In recent years, the younger generation has shown interest in streetwear brands, thanks to celebrities and KOLs wearing large clothes, more decontracted and fashionable clothes. Moreover, some TV shows have also contributed to this phenomenon, with the hip-hop trend, and the Rap of China show. People are also more open when mixing different styles together to create a new one.

  • Apparel market
(© WWD)

The revenue in the Apparel market amounted to US$306,115m in 2021. The market is expected to grow annually by 4.25% (CAGR 2021-2026). Given these numbers, apparel is the main segment of the fashion industry but is also the most competitive at the same time.

  • Fashion shoes
(© Dior)

Fashionable shoes are a must-have in any wardrobe, and it seems that China is no exception. The country’s fashion shoe market size was 13.4 billion yuan last year alone and is expected to reach 90.4 billion by 2022 according to reports from the Chinese Customs Bureau of Statistics who noted how quickly these numbers have been increasing over recent years – with 60% being male consumers.

  • The Trend of Korean Fashion in China
K-pop singer G-Dragon at Mademoiselle Privé Fashion Show

Thanks to the K-phenomenon (k-dramas and Kpop) Korean fashion is one of the most popular styles in China. The results of a recent survey show that 47% of respondents find the Korean style very fashionable, proving it to be consistently trendy and fresh.

What Are the Trends in Terms of Fashion in China?

According to Tmall, one of the leading e-commerce platforms in China, the fashion trends are:

Chinese women are becoming more manly:

  • Women now tend to buy more suits then men do
  • Oversized blazers sales among women have risen 139%
  • Baggy clothes are among top 10 search requests among women
  • Slouchy boyfriend jeans had an 830% increase in sales
  • For crew socks sales it was 489% up

Chinese men are becoming more trend-oriented:

  • The key word for male search requests is “trendy”
  • Other popular requests mention laces, see-through clothes, earrings, tatoo, flower print, etc

Chinese consumers are more concerned about their environmental impact

  • Fast fashion is sparking debate in China
  • Chinese consumers know that they can have a positive impact by reducing compulsive and unecessary purchase
  • Some people are increasingly looking for second-hand products

Sustainable fashion is on the rise in China

People are looking for sustainable solutions in terms of fashion, and brands have been encouraged to follow this phenomenon, raising awareness among Chinese consumers

If you want more information on Sustainable Fashion in China, you can read our full article here

Luxury fashion

The revenue in the Luxury Fashion segment amounted to US$106,850m in 2021. The market is expected to grow annually by 4.81% (CAGR 2021-2025). Therefore, as well as for the coming years, the luxury segment was one of the most popular among Chinese consumers, even though smaller brands are now trying to get their piece of the cake.

What are the top fashion brands in China?

Hermès store in China

Those who now have the opportunity to benefit from China’s economic recovery and rapid growth were in the market since the 90s, developing a sizable local operation with innovative strategies tailored for Chinese consumers. Top-tier brands — such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Prada, Hermès, Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Fendi, Armani, and Nike―take over prime locations at shopping malls or e-commerce sites like Tmall, JD.com, Secoo, WeChat mini-programs. On the other hand, many smaller companies occupy modern-style markets that cater specifically to youth shoppers seeking affordable clothing.

Chinese brand Li-Ning

But overall, we can see that 70% of top fashion retailers in China are now Chinese companies, according to China Chain Store & Franchise Association (CCSFA), and over 12% of them have a market capitalization of over $1 billion. Famous domestic brands include Adrian Cheng’s Chow Tai Fook, one of China’s oldest jewelry brands, Lao Feng Xiang, Amer Sports’ owner Anta, Fosun’s Yuyuan Jewelry, and Fashion Group Chow Sang Sang, Chinese sports brand Li-Ning, Foshan Saturday Shoes, etc.

China: A Promising but Tricky Market for Fashion Brands

Despite being lucrative, China’s apparel market is very tricky when it comes to marketing. The main reason here is that Chinese people are now the ones who make decisions on their own rather than just following the trend. So the strategies should focus not only on what might attract them but also consider everything that might cause the adverse effect.

You have to know that every single marketing campaign will be a challenge. There are many foreign clothing brands in China who used to do really well in this market and then failed completely because of one disappointing campaign. For example, these brands (which are extremely popular in China) have made a flop because of scandals:

  • Balenciaga for a scuffle with a Chinese shopper
  • Versace, Coach and Givenchy for designing T-Shirts with implications of Taiwan, Macau and HK being independent states
  • Swarovski for considering HongKong as a separate country
  • Dolce & Gabbana with its advertising campaign and even more outrageous reaction to the Chinese protest

On the other, when targetting Chinese consumers, you have to keep in mind their prerequisites and main criteria.

For example, as we can see from the above chart, the first thing consumers will focus on is the appearance and design of your fashion products. Then, word-of-mouth is also extremely important in China, as Chinese consumers will mostly rely on their friend’s recommendations than on ads for example. You can also notice that Chinese consumers are much more cautious about the environment, trying to change their daily consumption and purchasing more sustainable products. Thus, a leverage point could be to take a strong position on social and environmental issues, as this is very much demanded by the younger generation.

The Chinese audience is very easy to lose, be careful not to disappoint them

  • They can be very patriotic and sensitive at the same time, so do not imply any political point of view when promoting your products (as we have seen earlier with some famous scandals)
  • Don’t underestimate domestic brands as they benefit from localized strategies
  • They have a lot of brands to choose from, so if you are not innovative or trendy enough, they won’t even look at your products
  • The market is huge, you brand will be one among thousands, try to be creative and plan your marketing strategie in advance according to their needs and expectations

So what are the most sensitive topics now that can hinder a fashion brand from reapping the rewards in China?

  • Chinese culture peculiarities
  • Chinese living standards
  • Chinese habits as well as fashion trends
  • China-USA trade conflict
  • Any subjects related to Hongkong, Macau or Taiwan being independent from China

What can be done to avoid these mistakes?

  • Checking the political news and being aware of the current situation
  • Doing market research is essential!
  • Getting a cultural insight (there is numbers of superstitions in China and character-related misunderstandings that a foreign brand can flip over). So you should work with native Chinese to know what you should or should not do in China, as well as correct you (to avoid any misunderstanding in terms of meaning).
  • Getting a local expert to make amendments on your strategies.

Market research to get to know your competitors and adapt your marketing strategies

China’s recent economic resurgence has created one of the biggest opportunities for brands to enter this market. However, most have failed in their attempts due to wrong strategy and poor understanding of how China is changing. Top-tier international labels are dominating prime locations while local competitors provide a better value proposition with more innovative business models that appeal specifically to Chinese consumers.

Many Western fashion giants now regret not adapting sooner their marketing strategies as they see themselves quickly losing ground among budget-conscious shoppers, looking for unique and appealing fashion designs. Therefore, if you want to successfully enter the Chinese market, you will need to understand first Chinese consumers. By doing market research, you will then be able to adapt your marketing strategies and products to their needs and expectations.

Competition Between Domestic and Foreign Brands

When it comes to the competition between the domestic clothing brands and the foreign ones, a distinct line could be seen a few years ago, but this gap is slowly decreasing.

  • A few years ago, domestic brands were mostly targetting the mass market and lower income consumers, but it is slowing flipping over now
  • Foreign brands are mostly popular for their high-end fashion goods and high-quality materials

Most of the high-end apparel brands in China are the ones that come from the USA, Italy, France, Japan, Germany, etc. Foreign brands are tightly associated with quality. And this is why foreign brands are very likely to sell big once they manage to stand firmly on the Chinese market.

What is also true is that foreign high-end brands have managed to take over the best shopping malls in 1st tier and 2nd tier cities in China and let the local brands gradually move to the less developed areas to boost clothing sales amongst lower-income consumers.

How to get started and sell your fashion products in China?

Once you know all that, you can start to market your fashion brand in China. However, even that is not plain sailing and should be well structured and done with great precision.

How to introduce your brand to Chinese consumers?

Generally speaking, this stage is something you need to do as preparation. We recommend doing it because the Chinese audience will need to know who you are in order to get to know your products. That’s why you should focus on your visibility, e-reputation, and brand awareness. To do so, you have to be visible on the most used websites and apps in China: Baidu, Weibo, WeChat, Douyin, Xiaohongshu, as well as e-commerce platforms, etc.

Betting on Digital to Get into China’s Fashion Market

The importance of having an online presence has never been greater with the rise in e-commerce. Brands such as Uniqlo and Guerlain have made a strategic shift to focus on their digital marketing, knowing that is their leading market.

As we can see from McKinsey State of Fashion 2021, the biggest opportunity for fashion brands is digital. Foreign brands that want to enter and target the Chinese market should heavily rely on digital tools: not only it is easier and faster (if you know how to do it), but it is also much more efficient, attracting a lot more people.

Website in Mandarin Chinese: A Must Have for All Fashion Brands

Burberry’s Chinese website

Creating your own website in Mandarin Chinese is the best way to establish and sell as well as build long-term brand recognition. This option can be very beneficial for those looking at selling clothes over the internet because it builds up their credibility, especially in China where many customers are searching online! SEO or social media marketing could also help businesses develop their online presence, but paid advertising would work too if you really want to be visible in China.

Create an online presence on Chinese social media platforms

As mentioned all along in this article, being visible online is key if you want to target Chinese consumers. Therefore, having just a Chinese website is not sufficient: you will need to create professional accounts on the most popular social media in China as well.

WeChat (微信): China’s Leading Social App

With more than 1.2 million monthly active users, WeChat is the most popular app in China. Even though it was at first a messaging app, the app released under the giant Tencent in 2011 quickly became a vast ecosystem of services. Nowadays, WeChat is a must-have for every citizen and business as it became a new player in the e-commerce industry.

Wechat account number 2011-2021

With WeChat, you can post articles about the latest fashion trends to keep your customer’s wardrobe up-to-date. You are also able to share posts and run mini-programs that allow them to have a more interactive shopping experience by seeing what they’re missing in their closet or adding some new items to it.

It is no surprise then, that brands like Louis Vuitton, Prada or Gucci use this app as an essential marketing tool for connecting with shoppers on such a personalized level.

Prada on Wechat
Prada on Wechat

One key point is creating an Official Account as soon as possible – if not sooner than later – which can be quite daunting at first glance because there are many steps involved with setting one up correctly. But luckily, our team has all sorts of tricks up its sleeve so no need to fret over making frequent mistakes during setup anymore! Not only will we make sure that every step is accounted for, but we will also make sure to help you manage your account.

Weibo (微博): One of China’s Most Popular and Powerful Social Media

Launched in 2009 by the Chinese technology company Sina Corporation (新浪), Weibo (微博) is one of the biggest social media platforms in China. As its name indicates (“micro-blog”), Weibo provides micro-blogging services and is often compared to Twitter. However, it has evolved into a microblogging hybrid with Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, and YouTube over the years.

Dior on Weibo
Dior on Weibo

Almost all the fashion brands in China have a Weibo account on which they can share content with their followers, as well as promote their brand and new collection.

Weibo will give you access to a huge Chinese audience and give you more prospects for marketing. This step is very important for creating an image that you want to have, how you want them to remember you, to show your fashion brand’s specific traits. However, this is just a preparatory task. Your website or official accounts on Wechat and Weibo will be of use only if Chinese consumers can find you and think it is worth it.

How to please Chinese consumers?

Chinese people might get interested when checking your website, WeChat, Weibo only if you are visible and have a good reputation. Why? When Chinese people want to buy clothes, they will search on the internet for information about your brand. As there are a lot of fakes in China, a lot of scams, etc, even though you might be well known in your country or elsewhere, you will almost have to start everything again in order to attract them.

Apart from that, you have to make sure you can be viewed only in a positive way to earn their trust. It is about the reputation that you get from a third party. For Chinese people, it is crucial to have someone say that you are good indeed so that they can’t trust this influencer for example.

How to Market your Fashion Brand in China?

At this stage you can open your store on e-commerce platforms

As mentioned earlier, e-commerce is the way to go if you want to market your fashion brand in China. In 2017, China’s e-commerce revenue came in at 299 billion U.S. dollars across five lucrative segments – up from the 138 billion recorded in 2009 when it was just one segment (online retail). With the increasing digitization of Chinese society and the internet penetration coupled with GDP growth, these numbers are only expected to increase exponentially until 2025.

Moreover, as we can see from the above graphic from Statista, the most lucrative market in terms of revenue is the fashion industry, which is expected to account for 420.6 billion US dollars by 2025.

Fashion-savvy consumers have plenty of options when it comes to online shopping, and the market is getting more competitive every day. For example, Zalando was found as the fastest-growing e-commerce platform in terms of fashion during 2019 – 2021 according to data compiled by Forbes from June to October this year. What is interesting is that that this giant is followed by the Chinese giant platform Vip Shop, which accounts for 13,807 million U.S dollars.

Now as the current health crisis in China will boost digitalization, consumers are not going to stop buying luxury goods. In fact, for high-end retailers like Richemont and Burberry, China represents more than 40% of their sales, so it is crucial for them not to lose this market. To do so, they decided to team up with Tmall, which has become one of the most popular sites for these fashion lovers thanks to its wide variety of products from fashion brands.

Alibaba Group: Taobao, Tmall or Tmall Global?

A lot of Chinese are shopping on Taobao, however, Taobao is only for small brands and individuals, more amateur and less professional. Generally speaking, it is a C2C platform.

For you, as a highly reputed apparel brand, it is advisable to penetrate Tmall and Tmall Global for bigger sales in the future.

Tmall Global is an easier option because it is specifically designed for foreign brands to sell their goods directly without a Chinese business license. However, it is an expensive way to sell apparel in China.

  • You have to apply In advance so that they check your reputation and how well-known you are (that’s why working on your reputation is crucial)
  • After paying the deposit, you will be able to work on your store design and management and open it to the public
  • When you start getting potential clients, you can communicate with them directly through the platform
  • Then, you can start to attract a wider audience.

If you are not in China: Cross-border e-commerce platforms

Tmall Global’s website
JD Worldwide’s website

Tmall Global, JD Worldwide, VIP Shop, and Kaola are the best cross-border platforms if you want to enter the Chinese market.

You can contact us for more information about these platforms.

Why are Chinese influencers so very important for fashion brands?

Kols doing live streaming

Fashion trends are changing very fast here and it is important to stay in tune to have some guidance at a proper point in time. So it is very convenient to follow a KOL to keep pace with the changes.

Some of the influencers might have a very narrow specialization which gives a chance for better targeting. For sure, Fashionista-influencer is the best choice. Some influencers have a very tight connection with their followers so they will only recommend something good to their fans, getting more easily consumers’ trust.

The general rule here is that a good influencer will harmonize with your brand and makes it more “appealing” for the customer.

How do Chinese Kols do it?

Influencers are present on all platforms. They have a lot of followers on WeChat, Weibo, Douyin, Little Red Book, etc. Thus, they can have a huge impact on your sales as well as on ROI. Partnering with KOLs is crucial in China, but choosing the ones who will be able to share your brand’s story with viewers is the most important point. If you are looking for KOLs, do not hesitate to contact us and we will help you.

Douyin: Short videos to promote your brand and display your products

Douyin has only a few-year history and is already one of the most popular platforms in China with over 500 million active users every single day.

Austin Li, one of China’s most famous KOL

Douyin is an app with short videos on various topics. It is a very good way for the Chinese people to relieve their stress. Short videos are perfect for that and can be browsed through anywhere. What is also interesting is that now Douyin offers a chance to open a store. So an influencer can redirect your potential customer straight to your store.

You want to enter the Chinese Fashion Market? Contact us and we will help you achieve your goals!

The Chinese fashion market is one of the most promising in terms of opportunities, both for smaller companies like startups but also for larger international brands. However to succeed you will need to do a lot of research beforehand as well as be prepared to complete the application process before selling your goods on e-commerce platforms which can be difficult and time-consuming. That’s why working with specialists who have experience navigating this potentially daunting task could make all the difference between the success of a failure.

Working with an agency that has both western and Chinese points of view like Gentlemen Marketing Agency can help you overcome the pitfalls of the Chinese market. Our agency has accompanied many companies entering the Chinese market through Tmall, JD.com, Kaola, Vip.com, Taobao, Pinduoduo, Xiaohongshu, etc. Proud of the success of the companies that have contacted us, our experts are ready to help any company willing to do business in China. So, if you are interested in doing business in China, do not hesitate to contact us and we will reply within 24 hours.

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